Consultants demand 11 per cent pay rise and claim patients are ‘safe’ as they stage 48-hour strike – despite health chief warning sick Britons face ‘highest level of risk’ during strikes
Senior NHS doctors have demanded an 11 per cent pay rise as they take to the picket lines for the third time this year.
Junior doctors will organize a joint strike with senior doctors tomorrow and continue their own action until 7am on Saturday morning.
As sick Britons are told to use A&E as normal, health chiefs have warned patients they are at ‘the highest risk in living memory’.
But Dr Vishal Sharma, chairman of the British Medical Association (BMA) advisory committee, which is co-ordinating the drive, claimed this morning that a ‘safe level of service’ would be provided.
Consultants left hospitals at 7am this morning as part of a 48-hour strike, providing a ‘Christmas Day’ level of service – meaning routine appointments and operations will be significantly disrupted. Pictured: BMA advisers on the picket line outside University College London hospital in August
The BMA also said it had written to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Health Secretary Steve Barclay setting out the “key questions” needed to end the pay dispute.
In the letter sent to the Prime Minister yesterday, Dr Sharma said the BMA has always been clear that “strikes could be avoided if the government gave us a credible offer that we could make to our members.”
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today program this morning, he also said that rather than looking at legislation on minimum service levels, the government should ‘stop strikes in the first place’.
He added: ‘This has happened because NHS staff across the sector are really demoralised, they are really burned out and they have been forced into strike action.’
He said consultants wanted pay above inflation for this year, which stood at about 11 percent in April.
“That is a similar amount to what was offered to doctors in Scotland and it shows that it is absolutely possible to actually do that, if there is the right political will,” he added.
Junior doctors have already held 19 days of strike action since March, with consultants taking to the picket lines on four separate days.
Last week, NHS bosses blamed medical strikes for putting extra pressure on already struggling hospitals – with 400,000 appointments rescheduled this summer due to strikes.
Some 885,154 appointments have been postponed since the NHS industrial action – involving staff such as doctors, nurses, physiotherapists and paramedics – started in December.
If all community and mental health figures are included, the total rises to more than 940,000 – although this will not reflect the total number of actual cancellations, due to some duplication of data.
NHS leaders also said the real impact of strikes is masked by the data, as many hospitals have stopped booking operations and other appointments on announced strike days.
New NHS data from last week also showed that around 7.68 million patients in England – or one in seven people – were queuing up for procedures such as hip and knee replacements in July.
The toll marks the highest figures since NHS recording began in August 2007.
By comparison, around 4.4 million people were stuck in the system when the pandemic reached Britain.
But this morning Dr Sharma said growing NHS waiting lists were ‘not caused by the strikes’ and had ‘been rising long before the pandemic’.
He said this had led to ‘huge pressure on the entire NHS workforce’, adding that ‘the consultant staff are absolutely burnt out’ and are struggling to recruit people.
However, the NHS Confederation, which represents all NHS organisations, said more and more patients, including cancer patients, are seeing their appointments rescheduled more than once due to strikes.
England’s backlog of procedures such as hip and knee replacements now stands at 7.6 million, official figures revealed last week. It means about one in seven people across the country are currently stuck in the system awaiting care. More than 380,000 patients have not been treated for a year, often with pain
Matthew Taylor, the organisation’s chief executive, said: ‘This is likely to be the biggest strike the NHS has ever seen, causing serious disruption and putting patients at the highest level of risk in living memory.
“Leaders are concerned that this dangerous situation is being underestimated by the government, and tell us this feels very different and more complex than previous strikes.”
Many are reporting “increased difficulty planning schedules and having to cancel large numbers of electives and appointments in advance,” he added.
“This is much worse than before as we are now seeing patients who have already had an operation canceled due to industrial action being hit again with a cancellation of their rescheduled appointment,” he said.
‘Leaders have also told us that a greater number of surgeries and appointments for cancer patients are being canceled this time around, meaning some of the very sickest patients may suffer the most.’
In July, consultants and trainee doctors received a six per cent pay rise under No 10’s pay offer.
At the time, Rishi Sunak said the deal, announced in July for the 2023/2024 period, was the government’s “final offer”.
Nurses, paramedics and other NHS staff received a five per cent increase and an ‘NHS backlog bonus’.
However, the BMA immediately rejected the increase and vowed to continue strike action.
Today’s action also comes as the government this week outlined plans to expand strike laws to ensure more healthcare workers, including doctors and nurses, in hospitals provide a minimum level of cover.
The regulations, which could come into effect next year, would mean doctors and nurses would have to provide a certain level of cover after employers receive a ‘work notice’ about what is required to maintain ‘necessary and safe services’. .
In July, the new strike law received royal assent, allowing ministers to impose minimum levels of service on ambulance workers, firefighters, rail workers and people in other sectors deemed essential during industrial action.
Steve Barclay told Sky News this morning: ‘What we’re announcing today is how we protect time-critical hospital services, so things like chemotherapy, things like dialysis, because we recognize that the right to strike is important, but we have to balance that with the right of patients on important treatments.’
He claimed that France and Italy had already taken such measures.
But Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, said the government’s proposed minimum service levels risked industrial relations “deteriorating at a time when we need the government and the unions to come around the table and start conversations to prevent further escalation and disruption of patient care. .’
She said: ‘The strike action in the NHS over the past ten months has undoubtedly been disruptive for patients and staff.
“This legislation – as well as the consultation announced today – does not address any of the issues underlying the current strike action, including dissatisfaction with wages and working conditions.
“With unprecedented joint action by consultants and trainee doctors just days away, we need the government and unions to urgently sit down and talk.”
However, last week Mr Barclay said there would be no further talks over pay with the BMA, claiming ‘we have reached a fair and final settlement on pay’.
Yesterday, Professor Sir Stephen Powis, National Medical Director of the NHS, said: ‘The NHS has simply never seen this kind of industrial action in its history.
‘This week’s first-ever joint action means that almost all planned care will be halted and hundreds of thousands of appointments will be postponed, which is incredibly difficult for patients and their families, and presents a huge challenge for colleagues across the NHS.’
Emergency care – through emergency departments and 999 – is still available, but patients have been told that for minor health issues they should contact NHS 111 or their local pharmacy.