Junior doctors in England will strike for four days in an escalating row over pay, as health secretary Steve Barclay is accused of failing to make a credible offer.
The British Medical Association (BMA) said the 96-hour walkout would take place between 11 April and 15 April and hit out at the government, claiming it was not serious about resolving the dispute.
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents hospitals, said up to 250,000 appointments and surgeries could be postponed as a result of the next wave of strikes, based on the disruption caused by the three-day walkout earlier this month.
Mr Taylor said: “This hugely disappointing news will be a blow to leaders’ efforts to tackle the backlog and further industrial action will have a significant impact on patient care.
“Leaders will have been hoping for progress and an outcome similar to negotiations with the agenda for change unions so news of another, longer walkout is a huge setback for plans.
“Sadly, it is inevitable that this will impact on patient safety and dignity ... leaders will be dismayed about a repeat and worried about the impact on patient care, particularly just after Easter.”
The walkout from 13 to 15 March was deemed by NHS leaders as the most “disruptive” action to date, with more than 180,000 operations and appointments rescheduled, including life-saving operations and urgent cancer care.
Estimates reported by The Independent show that the earlier walkout could cost the NHS up to £92m in fees for consultants to cover junior doctors’ shifts.
Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive at NHS Providers, which also represents hospitals across the country, said the prospect of a 96-hour strike would “ring alarm bells” for NHS leaders.
She warned the action, which will come after a bank holiday and with no services exempt, could be the “biggest disruption from NHS walk-outs so far”.
“Trust leaders understand why junior doctors feel they’ve been pushed to this point, but it’s incumbent on all involved to urgently re-enter talks in good faith,” she said.
The BMA is calling for the government to address its estimates that junior doctors have seen a 26 per cent real terms pay cut since 2008, based on RPI inflation rates.
To meet this the government would have to increase junior doctors’ pay by around 35 per cent, according to the BMA’s estimates.
The April strikes will come just after a bank holiday weekend, during and after which the NHS often experiences more pressure due to lower staffing levels.
In a statement, Dr Vivek Trivedi and Dr Robert Laurenson, co-chairs of the BMA junior doctor committee, said the need for further action was disappointing and frustrating.
They said: “The government has dragged its feet at every opportunity. It has not presented any credible offer and is refusing to accept that there is any case for pay restoration, describing our central ask as ‘unrealistic’ and ‘unreasonable’. Even yesterday they continued to add new unacceptable preconditions to talks instead of getting on and trying to find a resolution.
“We, therefore, have no confidence that without further action these negotiations can be successful.”
The latest action by junior doctors comes after the unions representing nurses and ambulance workers agreed to accept a 5.2 per cent pay rise last week, which they will now ask members to vote for.
Unite is the only union not proactively recommending its members vote for the deal.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson claimed the BMA placed a “pre-condition” ahead of a meeting yesterday of a 35 per cent pay rise which the DHSC said was “unreasonable”.
It said: “Our door remains open to constructive conversations, as we have had with other health unions, to find a realistic way forward which balances rewarding junior doctors for their hard work while being fair to the taxpayer.”
However, in response to this, the BMA said the claim is “not true” and that it has not set any preconditions.
It said: “The ask of 35 per cent pay restoration is our starting position, and we are willing to meet with the Health Secretary anywhere, anytime, to negotiate what this might look like.”
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