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England’s senior doctors have narrowly rejected a government pay offer aimed at averting further industrial action, as the NHS contends with one of its toughest winters on record.
The British Medical Association called on the government to improve its offer on Thursday, after 51 per cent of its consultant members voted against the proposed deal, raising the possibility of further industrial action.
The NHS is struggling this winter as it faces an influx of patients while trying to cut waiting lists at near record levels that have built up during a wave of strikes by health workers that began in December 2022.
The situation was compounded earlier this month by a six-day walkout by junior doctors, who also remain in dispute with the government over pay.
Consultants are calling for an above-inflation pay rise this year as the first step towards addressing 15 years of pay erosion.
Victoria Atkins, health secretary, said she was “disappointed that after weeks of constructive negotiations, the BMA has, by the narrowest of margins, rejected this fair and reasonable offer.”
She added: “I want to build on our progress on waiting lists and for us all to be able to focus our efforts on offering patients the highest quality care. The government is therefore carefully considering next steps.”
The offer to senior doctors included a 4.95 per cent “investment in pay” for the 2023-24 financial year, in addition to a 6 per cent rise last April. The deal would have enabled consultants to reach the top end of the pay scale five years sooner.
Dr Vishal Sharma, BMA consultants committee chair, said: “The vote has shown that consultants do not feel the current offer goes far enough to end the current dispute and offer a long-term solution to the recruitment and retention crisis for senior doctors.
“However, with the result so close, the consultants committee is giving the government a chance to improve the offer,” he said, adding that the union would be seeking talks with the government in the coming days.
Wes Streeting, Labour’s shadow health secretary, called on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to take “charge of negotiations”.