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Strike action ‘only thing the Government listens to’ – junior doctors

The Government and junior medics have been unable to break the deadlock in the bitter dispute over pay.

Sam Hall
Wednesday 03 January 2024 15:07 GMT
Health Secretary concerned about consequences of junior doctors' six-day strike

Strike action is the “only thing” the Government listens to, junior doctors have said, as they embarked on the longest walkout in NHS history.

Junior doctors in England are staging industrial action for six consecutive days in a major escalation of their bitter dispute with the Government over pay.

Medics said that they still have support of the public as they described having tea, coffee and even a lemon drizzle cake delivered to picket lines.

Ministers and the British Medical Association (BMA) were locked in talks for five weeks last year in a bid to try and break the deadlock.

But strikes were called after talks broke down.

Medics insisted that Health Secretary Victoria Atkins had “pushed” them out of the negotiation room.

Speaking from a picket line outside St Thomas’ Hospital in London, Dr Robert Laurenson, co-chair of the BMA’s junior doctors committee, said there was “no good time to strike”, but added that “we need to recognise that we have a massive workforce crisis”.

He told the PA news agency the strikes were necessary because they are “the only thing that the Government understands with regards to being able to work with a workforce”.

Dr Laurenson added: “The only reason the Government will even entertain talks with us is because we have strike action.”

He said the BMA was “happy to negotiate anytime, anywhere”, adding: “I’m happy to negotiate right now. I’ll walk down to Westminster, I’ll sit down with Victoria Atkins if she wants to sit down with us, but she doesn’t. She’s pushed us out of the negotiation room.”

The public are shocked at how little we are paid - qualified doctors, including on New Years Day, working for £15.53 an hour for literally life-saving work.

Dr Emma Runswick

Speaking from a picket line in Manchester, Dr Emma Runswick, deputy chair of council at the BMA and junior doctor, told PA: “We really hoped that we would have an offer on the table at this point to restore doctors’ pay, to make steps to restoring doctors’ pay.

“Unfortunately, Victoria Atkins is holding back some final offer, causing us to be in this position yet again.

“We didn’t want to be here, but unless we take action we’ve got absolutely no chance of restoring doctors’ pay, keeping staff in the NHS and making our service decent again for patients.”

She added: “It’s a real shame that the Government feels that it can treat us so, so poorly: year-on-year, real-terms pay cuts – we’re now down 26% against what we were paid in 2008. The work is not easier, the work is not less busy, we’ve got a worse service with fewer colleagues, and we’re really struggling.

“If we’re going to reverse that crisis, we need to restore pay and keep people in the service.”

Dr Runswick said that the public were supportive of the strike and people had donated tea and coffee to striking doctors, and one person had even delivered a lemon drizzle cake to the picket line outside Manchester Royal Infirmary.

“They are shocked at how little we are paid – qualified doctors, including on New Years Day, working for £15.53 an hour for literally life-saving work,” she added.

“We want doctors to be paid about £20 an hour, we don’t think that’s unreasonable, nor do patients, nor do the public.”

A junior doctor at a picket line in London has said more NHS workers will consider moving overseas unless pay is improved.

Dr Georgia Blackwell, 28, said she thought that junior doctors moving to other countries was “increasingly an issue”.

Speaking from a picket line outside St Thomas’ Hospital in central London, she told the PA news agency: “A lot of doctors are moving to Australia – not just because of the pay, but also the work-life balance is better.”

Junior doctors had gathered outside St Thomas’ on Wednesday morning to take part in the strike and cheered when vehicles driving across Westminster Bridge beeped their horns in support of those on the picket line.

Doctors were on strike outside Bristol Royal Infirmary in central Bristol, with many holding signs calling for “pay restoration” and stating that £15 per hour is “not a fair wage for a junior doctor”.

Dr Fareed Al Qusous told the PA news agency: “No doctor wants to take industrial action, it is a form of last resort, but this government has forced our hand.

“All we’re asking for is a credible offer from the government that we can give to our memberships and this strike will be called off immediately.

“Our door is open whenever to negotiate with the government.”

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