Junior doctors in England willing to consider lower pay rise this year, says union

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Junior doctors in England are willing to consider a pay rise this year that is lower than their original 35 per cent demand, according to union leaders ahead of another five-day strike.

Ministers have long argued that junior doctors’ original request of full pay restoration — equivalent to a 35 per cent increase — is “unreasonable” in light of government funding constraints.

Vivek Trivedi, co-chair of the British Medical Association’s junior doctors committee, told the Financial Times that junior doctors would still like to see their pay restored in real terms to 2008 levels, but did not make that a condition for this year’s offer with the government during recent negotiations.

“Our conversations do not focus around that 35 per cent figure,” he said, adding that it was “not a feature”. “It’s about getting an offer that’s acceptable to our members for this year.”

Doctors say they have experienced a 26 per cent decline in pay in real terms since 2008, a much sharper rate than all other workers in the public and private sector.

“The truth is we had very reasonable conversations with people in the room when we were talking at the end of last year,” Trivedi said, adding that the union would be willing to put an attractive single-year pay offer to members for a vote. 

Trivedi, an anaesthetist, was speaking ahead of junior doctors starting five days of walkouts at 7am on Saturday as part of their battle for higher pay and better working conditions, following an unprecedented six-day strike last month.

Recent polls have suggested public support for striking health workers has waned, although the latest YouGov tracker still suggests 50 per cent of people support the industrial action.

In the latest round of negotiations, in November and December, government officials gave junior doctors a preliminary offer of an average 3 per cent pay increase, on top of an average 8.8 per cent given in 2023/24. Officials say that the BMA walked out of negotiations before a final offer was put on the table.

Attempts to restart discussions earlier this month broke down after health secretary Victoria Atkins refused the BMA’s request to extend its current strike mandate — which was coming to an end — for four weeks to allow negotiations to continue.

Trivedi said he was “cautiously hopeful” that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak would make some money available in the Budget next month to offer junior doctors a revised pay offer, arguing there would be huge NHS productivity gains if a deal was reached and industrial action came to an end.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has made improving public sector productivity and efficiency one of his key goals.

NHS England has estimated that strike action has cost the health service £1.5bn up to January this year, and resulted in more than 1.3mn appointments being cancelled.

Atkins said earlier this month she wanted to find “a reasonable solution that ends strike action” and that calling further stoppages “does not signal that they are ready to be reasonable”.

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