Health & Lifestyle

NHS doctors ready to strike until 2025 ‘and beyond’, top doctor warns

NHS junior doctors and consultants could strike until 2025, their union has warned.

Professor Philip Banfield, council chair at the British Medical Association (BMA), said doctors will ‘strike to the next general election — and beyond — if that is what it takes’ to secure a rise above the Government’s five per cent offer.

However, he said the BMA has asked to hold accelerated talks with ministers over the next fortnight in a bid to reach a ‘credible’ pay deal ahead of walkouts this month.

Junior doctors are set to stage the largest walkout in NHS history, taking to picket lines for five days this month, followed by a 48-hour strike by consultants.

Ministers had, thus far, refused to budge, but Health Secretary Steve Barclay today suggested that he is willing to give doctors a bigger pay rise — stating that there needs to be ‘movement on both sides’. 

NHS junior doctors and consultants could strike until 2025, their union, the British Medical Association (BMA) has warned (pictured NHS medics striking in April)

NHS junior doctors and consultants could strike until 2025, their union, the British Medical Association (BMA) has warned (pictured NHS medics striking in April)

Professor Philip Banfield, council chair at the BMA, said doctors will 'strike to the next general election ¿ and beyond ¿ if that is what it takes'

Professor Philip Banfield, council chair at the BMA, said doctors will ‘strike to the next general election — and beyond — if that is what it takes’

Professor Banfield, the BMA’s most senior doctor, is set to make the strike warning at the BMA’s annual conference in Liverpool.

With the next general election not due until January 2025 — his threat hints at potentially another 18 months of doctors staging walkouts.  

He is expected to say that the union is ‘willing to do what it takes for our profession and for our patients’.

Professor Banfield will accuse ministers of refusing to acknowledge that doctors have seen real terms pay cuts of up to 35 per cent since 2008/9 and of the ‘devastation’ wrought on the NHS by ‘successive UK Governments’.

However, he will add that he has written to the Prime Minister, ‘making a big offer’ to hold talks over the next two weeks to ‘break the deadlock’ in the junior doctors’ strike and reach a settlement.

The BMA has previously held talks with the conciliation service ACAS with hoped of ending the bitter deadlock, which has rumbled on for months. 

While ACAS has said it is ‘well prepared and ready to help’ it can only get involved if ministers also agree to the intervention. 

Talks with the BMA’s junior doctor committee broke down following the Government’s pay offer of five per cent. 

The union is now demanding a full pay restoration to 2008 levels which equates to a 35 per cent rise from the last financial year.

Junior doctors are planning to stage a five-day strike from July 13 to 18 as part of this campaign.

The NHS is expected to run a reduced level of service during the strike action.

This will mean few elective operations or appointments will go ahead, with thousands predicated to be cancelled.

Most NHS resources will instead be focussed on maintaining ‘life and limb’ care like A&E services and looking after patients already in hospital.

Consultants, the most senior doctors in the NHS, are also planning to stage their own action on July 20 and 21, where they will only provide scaled-back ‘Christmas day cover’.

Both walkouts are predicted to add further cancelled appointments to the almost 650,000 NHS cancellations and postponements caused by mass NHS walkouts within the last eight months. 

But in a sign of a shift in approach within Government Health Secretary today suggested that the Government is willing to negotiate with the BMA.

More than half a million NHS appointments in England have been cancelled due to health service strikes between December and April, official figures show

More than half a million NHS appointments in England have been cancelled due to health service strikes between December and April, official figures show

The proportion of GP appointments in England held face to face has remained stubbornly at around 70 per cent in in recent months. Eight in ten consultations were in-person pre-pandemic. But the figure has so far failed to bounce back. Data shown up until December 2020

The proportion of GP appointments in England held face to face has remained stubbornly at around 70 per cent in in recent months. Eight in ten consultations were in-person pre-pandemic. But the figure has so far failed to bounce back. Data shown up until December 2020

There were just 27,558 full-time equivalent, fully qualified GPs working in England last month, down 1.6 per cent on the 18,000 recorded in June 2021. It was down 5.3 per cent on the more than 29,000 working in June 2017

There were just 27,558 full-time equivalent, fully qualified GPs working in England last month, down 1.6 per cent on the 18,000 recorded in June 2021. It was down 5.3 per cent on the more than 29,000 working in June 2017

Mr Barclay told The Times that the 35 per cent demand is unreasonable ‘given the headwinds we face from inflation’. But he added: ‘I think there needs to be movement on both sides.’

On the consultant dispute specifically he also said that he was ‘very keen to have further discussions with them’ and there were areas of their contracts where there was ‘scope for further discussion’. 

But Mr Barclay ruled out any talks with doctors while strike dates were scheduled.

In his first conference speech since being elected as the BMA Chair of Council last year, Professor Banfield will brand general practice as ‘the cornerstone of a cost effective and efficient health service’ and warn that ‘if we lose general practice, we lose the NHS’.

The latest NHS data shows an estimated 28.7 million GP appointments were carried out in May.

Of these 69.8 per cent were carried out face to face. This compares to about 80 per cent pre-pandemic.  

Professor Banfield will set out that NHS medics face understaffing every day and are ‘not being paid their worth’.

He will say doctors, look ‘patients in the eye every day and apologise when we have not been able to provide the care and treatments we’ve been trained to give.’

The BMA boss also is set to hit out at what he called the Government’s ‘greatest ever investment’ in sending NHS medics to Australia.

Professor Banfield was referencing a Government plan to train more doctors, but the union leader argued without boosting their pay, the UK was simply helping to train other countries future medics.

Record numbers of medics are looking to leave the UK for Australia with hundreds already having made the trip, citing better pay and working conditions than offered in Britain. 

The ad campaign run by the South Australian Government which visited the British Medical Association picket lines at St George's Hospital in London during the last junior doctors strike

The ad campaign run by the South Australian Government which visited the British Medical Association picket lines at St George’s Hospital in London during the last junior doctors strike

This chart shows the number of UK registered doctors who have requested documents for a job application overseas over the past five years. Interest peaked in 2022, but 2023 is also on track to be a bumper year

This chart shows the number of UK registered doctors who have requested documents for a job application overseas over the past five years. Interest peaked in 2022, but 2023 is also on track to be a bumper year

But Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has downplayed fears that medics are deserting the UK for Down Under. 

On Friday he pointed to General Medical Council data showing about 95 per cent newly qualified doctors worked in the NHS. 

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘We hugely value the work of NHS consultants and it is disappointing the BMA consultants have voted to take strike action. 

‘Consultants received a 4.5% pay uplift last financial year, increasing average earnings to around £128,000, and they will benefit from generous changes to pension taxation announced at budget.

‘Strikes are hugely disruptive for patients and put pressure on other NHS staff. 

‘We’ve been engaging with the BMA Consultants Committee on their concerns already and stand ready to open talks again – we urge them to come to the negotiating table rather than proceeding with their proposed strike dates.

‘We urge the BMA to carefully consider the likely impact of any action on patients.’

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