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Junior doctors in England are to stage a fresh strike over five days this month, threatening further damage to the NHS during the tough winter period as they battle to secure a better pay deal.
The British Medical Association said on Friday that doctors below consultant level would walk out between February 24 and February 28, after the government failed to put an improved salary offer on the table.
The stoppage follows a six-day strike by junior doctors last month, the longest in the health service’s 76-year history.
After five weeks of talks late last year, the medical union rejected the government’s offer of a 3 per cent pay increase, on top of a roughly 9 per cent rise already offered. It said the proposal was not “credible” and did not address 15 years of inflation-linked pay erosion.
The BMA junior doctors committee is balloting to secure a further six-month strike mandate but said it had offered health secretary Victoria Atkins the option to extend the current mandate for a short period in order to allow talks to continue.
But it said she had declined, and that the fresh strike — which will start at 7am on February 24 and end just before midnight on February 28 — could still be called off if the government made a credible offer.
Dr Robert Laurenson and Dr Vivek Trivedi, co-chairs of the BMA junior doctors committee, said: “We have made every effort to work with the government in finding a fair solution to this dispute whilst trying to avoid strike action.”
They said the “glacial speed” of progress in dealings with ministers was “frustrating and incomprehensible”. Atkins had made clear that she had a further offer to make, they said, but it took more than 20 days for a meeting with a minister to be offered “and there was no offer on the table”.
While this would be the last action of the current mandate, “we are already balloting for six months more. Even now we are willing to put off these strikes to find a solution — it’s in the health secretary’s hands”, they added.
The NHS is struggling this winter as it faces an influx of patients while trying to cut waiting lists for non-urgent treatment that stand at 7.6mn since health workers began a wave of strikes in December 2022.
During the six-day strike in January, about 113,000 appointments and operations were cancelled, and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak admitted this week that he would not meet a pledge to have waiting lists falling by the next election.
Responding to the BMA’s announcement, Atkins said she wanted “to focus on cutting waiting times for patients rather than industrial action”.
“Five days of action will put enormous pressure on the NHS and is not in the spirit of constructive dialogue. To make progress I ask the junior doctors committee to cancel their action and come back to the table,” Atkins added.
Sir Julian Hartley, chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents health organisations across England, said the BMA’s decision was “another body blow for leaders of NHS services already stretched to the limit”.
“Before it’s too late politicians and unions must get back to serious talks which can address doctors’ concerns, resolve the dispute and prevent more strikes,” he added.
Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said Sunak bore “responsibility for the cancelled operations and appointments desperate patients will face once again”, adding: “If the Conservatives have given up on governing, they should step aside so Labour can get the NHS back on its feet.”
BMA consultant members voted narrowly to reject a government pay offer last month, raising the possibility of further industrial action by England’s senior doctors.