Wes Streeting begs doctors not to strike amid warning Labour NHS plan worse than austerity

Wes Streeting has appealed to doctors to abandon their strike but been warned over his plans for the NHS

David Maddox
Political editor
Sunday 16 June 2024 16:14 BST
Wes Streeting says nothing to be 'achieved' by junior doctors strike action ahead of election

Wes Streeting has appealed to junior doctors to abandon their plans to go on strike during the election and wait to see what the result will be.

It comes after the shadow health secretary made clear he will not agree to their demands for a 35 percent pay rise branding them “unaffordable”.

But the row came as the respected health think tank the Nuffield Trust warned that both Labour and Tory plans for the NHS are worse than the peak of the austerity era under David Cameron’s premiership after the financial crash.

The Nuffield Trust think tank warned Labour and Tory pledges on the NHS would leave the health service with lower annual funding increases - at 1.1 percent and 0.9 percent respectively - than during the austerity era.

Wes Streeting declined to rule out council tax hikes
Wes Streeting declined to rule out council tax hikes (Jeff Overs/BBC/PA Wire)

Mr Streeting suggested there could be greater spending increases for the NHS than committed to in the Labour manifesto, saying this could happen "only if the conditions allow".

The Conservatives seized on this, with a party spokesman saying: "Labour's manifesto is just window dressing for the election campaign and they are planning to spend and tax more than they are telling the public."

Earlier the shadow health secretary had declined to rule out a hike in council taxes.

But Mr Streeting made clear that he believes his first major task as health secretary if, as expected Labour wins the election, is to deal with the junior doctors strike.

He has urged junior doctors to call off their upcoming strike and said he would be on the phone to them "on day one" of a Labour government to settle the long-running pay dispute.

He said he was "beyond furious" the industrial action is ongoing as he blamed the Tories for failing to resolve them.

Junior doctors on the picket line outside St Thomas’ Hospital in central London in February (Aaron Chown/PA)
Junior doctors on the picket line outside St Thomas’ Hospital in central London in February (Aaron Chown/PA) (PA Wire)

Junior doctors in England are preparing to stage a full walkout for five days starting from 7am on June 27.

The strike is set to end just two days before voters go to the polls.

Mr Streeting told Sunday Morning With Trevor Phillips on Sky News: "This Government is incapable of resolving the dispute before polling day on July 4.

"I don't think there's anything to be achieved by having strikes in the election campaign. The only thing we will see is more untold misery inflicted on patients who see their appointments and procedures delayed and also junior doctors out of pocket."

He continued: "I've called on them to call off the strikes in the election campaign, give change a chance on July 4 knowing that if there is a Labour government on July 5, I will be phoning them on day one and asking the department to get talks up and running urgently...

"I'm beyond furious that this is still happening."

But he reiterated that "the money isn't there" to give junior doctors a 35% pay rise, which would restore their pay in real terms to their 2010 levels.

When the British Medical Association announced the strike, it said that if Prime Minister Rishi Sunak made a "concrete commitment to restore doctors' pay" during his campaign "that is acceptable to the BMA's junior doctors committee, then no strikes need go ahead".

In May, the Government and the BMA entered mediated talks to try to resolve the dispute.

But they failed to reach agreement before parliamentary business was concluded in the run-up to the election.

The last strike by junior doctors, from February 24 to 28 this year, led to 91,048 appointments, operations and procedures being postponed.

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