NHS junior doctors will strike again, announcing a fresh wave of five days of industrial action for later this month.
Medics will take to the picket lines from February 24 to 28 with the British Medical Association (BMA) saying the Government had rejected its ‘gesture of goodwill’.
It is the latest round of prolonged strike action which has seen thousands of appointments cancelled since the dispute over pay kicked off last year.
The union said it had offered Health Secretary Victoria Atkins the opportunity to avoid further strikes by extending the BMA’s current strike mandate, currently set to expire in Spring, to allow talks to continue. But she declined.
On news of the fresh action Ms Atkins hit back at the union, saying the new set of strikes shows they are not ‘ready to be reasonable’.
Junior doctors on the picket line outside St Thomas Hospital in London during the last wave of strike action in January
She said: ‘This action called by the BMA Junior Doctor Committee does not signal that they are ready to be reasonable.
‘We already provided them with a pay increase of up to 10.3 per cent and were prepared to go further.
‘We urged them to put an offer to their members, but they refused. We are also open to further discussions on improving doctors’ and the wider workforce’s working lives.’
Ms Atkins added the newly announced strike action will put pressure on the NHS and is ‘not in the spirit of constructive dialogue’ and said the union should call it off.
‘To make progress I ask the Junior Doctors Committee to cancel their action and come back to the table to find a way forward for patients and our NHS,’ she said.
The strikes will commence from 7am on February 24 until just before midnight on February 28, meaning they will cover five days in total.
In a joint statement, the BMA junior doctors committee co-chairs Dr Robert Laurenson and Dr Vivek Trivedi said the strikes could have been averted had the Government agreed to come to the negotiating table.
‘Even yesterday we were willing to delay further strike action in exchange for a short extension of our current strike mandate,’ they said,
‘Had the Health Secretary agreed to this, an act of good faith on both sides, talks could have gone ahead without more strikes. Sadly, the Government declined.
‘The glacial speed of progress with the Government is frustrating and incomprehensible.’
They added that despite Ms Atkins saying during the last round of strike action she would meet junior doctors in 20minutes when no strikes were planned it was more than 20 days before they were offered a meeting.
But they said the union was willing to cancel the upcoming strikes if a credible pay offer is made.
‘From the very start of the industrial action, we have been clear that there is no need for strike action as long as substantial progress is made, and we remain willing to carry on talking and to cancel the forthcoming strikes if significant progress is made and a credible offer is put forward,’ they said.
The BMA’s fresh wave of strike action comes just a month after the last with junior medics last taking to the picket lines for a record breaking six days of industrial action.
This alone led to the cancellation of nearly 114,000 patient appointments.
While previous strike action has led to the cancellation of elective care, emergency services like A&Es have remained open and officials have urged Brits needing urgent medical care to still seek help if needed.
The BMA is campaigning for a massive 35 per cent salary hike for junior doctors.
It claims its demands are for ‘pay restoration’ given that previous NHS salaries rises for medics have not kept place with inflation.
Junior doctors in their first year now have a basic pay of £32,300, while those with three years’ experience make £43,900. The most senior earn £63,100.
Ministers previously offered junior doctors an 8.8 per cent pay rise, on average, for the 2023/24 financial year.
However, the uplift was higher for first year medics, who were given a 10.3 per cent boost.
Ministers insisted this was the final offer. But Ms Atkins offered medics an additional 3 per cent on top of this rise.
But the union said at the time this improved sum was still ‘completely insufficient’.
The NHS in England has now been beset by strike action for more than a year.
Doctors, nurses, paramedics and physiotherapists have taken to the picket lines at some stage, resulting in more than 1.3million appointments cancelled.