Stay up to date with notifications from The Independent

Notifications can be managed in browser preferences.

Patients will be at risk in January’s strike by junior doctors – health chief

NHS Confederation chief executive Matthew Taylor called on the Government and the British Medical Association to end the stalemate over negotiations.

David Hughes
Saturday 23 December 2023 08:52 GMT
(Danny Lawson/PA)
(Danny Lawson/PA) (PA Wire)

Patient safety will be put at risk in the next round of junior doctor strikes in England, a health leader has warned as he pleaded for ministers and the British Medical Association (BMA) to end the dispute.

Junior doctors in England have returned to work after a 72-hour stoppage, but are preparing for the longest strike in NHS history from January 3.

NHS Confederation chief executive Matthew Taylor urged the Government and the BMA not to allow a stubborn sense of pride to get in the way of efforts to avert a potentially dangerous walkout.

He said the NHS had coped during the three-day strike which ended on Saturday morning, but some patients who would otherwise have gone home to spend Christmas with families had not been able to be discharged.

This is not a time for standing on ceremony. This is a time for people to get around the table

Matthew Taylor, NHS Confederation

January’s strike would be a different matter, he said, adding: “Six days of strike action following bank holiday at a time of enormous pressure, there are real issues around patient safety and we don’t have in place national derogations, which we have had for other strikes.

“So yes, there will be an impact on the backlog, but I also have real concerns about patient safety over these days.”

The national derogations allow trusts to ask doctors to come back into work to ease pressure in certain areas.

Industrial action was announced after weeks of talks between unions and ministers broke down.

Junior doctors were offered a 3% rise on top of the average 8.8% increase they were given in the summer.

But the BMA said the money would have been split unevenly across different grades and would “still amount to pay cuts for many doctors”.

The Government said negotiations would not take place until the threat of strikes was lifted.

Mr Taylor said: “It appears that the BMA won’t enter talks unless the Government commits to some extra money, the Government won’t go into talks until the BMA calls off the strikes.

“This is not a time for standing on ceremony. This is a time for people to get around the table.

“It isn’t too late to head off those strikes in January.”

He added: “In a sense, neither side wants to blink first, as though that would be a sign of weakness.

“I think, from the perspective of the public, patients, or other people who work in the NHS, anyone who moved first, I think, will get a great deal of credit for that.

“So I would call on both sides to show a bit of imagination and get into talks.”

Over the last three days, the BMA has urged the Government to get back around the table with junior doctors with a “credible” offer, and called on Health Secretary Victoria Atkins to “stop trying to divide the profession”.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak branded the action “disappointing” and urged junior doctors to call off strikes.

On Thursday Ms Atkins suggested “many, many doctors” would be feeling “deeply uncomfortable” about the timing of strikes and questioned whether the BMA’s junior doctors’ committee was representing the views of medics.

Dr Vivek Trivedi, co-chairman of the BMA’s junior doctors’ committee, said he believed a deal could be reached if the Government returned to the table.

“I think, if they are so insistent that they don’t want to see these strikes go ahead, then present an offer that they have in their back pocket – which they’ve said that they’ve got – this is the time for that to come forward,” he told the BBC.

He said the BMA “never asked” for the 35% pay increase it demands to restore pay to 2008 levels in real terms be delivered in one year.

“We recognise that these pay cuts didn’t happen overnight and we’re not suggesting they need to be rectified overnight, but we need to be making some headway towards that,” he said.

The health service is facing mounting seasonal pressure, with officials expecting it to be the most challenging winter yet.

The next strike will begin at 7am on January 3 and end at 7am on January 9.

It will be the longest strike in the 75-year history of the NHS.

Junior doctors in Wales are planning a 72-hour walkout from January 15, while doctors in training in Northern Ireland are being balloted for strike action.

Those in Scotland have already come to an agreement with the Holyrood Government.

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in