Calls for talks to end junior doctor strike

By Nick Trigle
health correspondent

1 hour ago

Doctors leaders and ministers are being urged to start formal pay talks after a breakthrough in a deal with other NHS workers in England.

But the British Medical Association (BMA) and the government are not yet in talks to resolve the doctors’ dispute.

Earlier this week, young doctors in England took part in a three-day strike.

The strike, which affected scheduled and emergency care, caused significant disruption, NHS bosses have said.

Thursday’s new salary offer to NHS workers, including nurses, ambulances and physiotherapists, has the backing of most unions and has raised hopes that the strikes that ravaged the NHS over the winter are a thing of the past.

This offer, which is ongoing, includes a one-off payment of at least £1,655 to recognize work during the pandemic.

The 14 unions involved will now put it to their members’ vote, with the biggest three – the Royal College of Nursing, Unison and the GMB – all backing the deal.

However, the Unite union has said it cannot recommend the offer but will put it to the vote and support the decision they have taken.

The young doctors’ pay dispute is far from settled as the BMA is demanding a 35% pay rise which it says will reverse 15 years of cuts.

The government made a last-minute offer of formal pay talks last Friday, three days before the strike.

However, the BMA rejected this on the grounds that the requirements were not acceptable.

The government was only willing to negotiate the next fiscal year’s residencies, with the option of a one-off payment for the past year in return for the strike ending.

Sources say this was the same offer made to unions working on behalf of other NHS workers.

Following Thursday’s breakthrough, Health Secretary Steve Barclay urged the young doctors to stop industrial action and start talks, saying the demand for a 35% pay rise was “unaffordable”.

“We have offered the trainee doctors the same terms that have been accepted by the other unions and I hope the trainee doctors will respond to that,” he said.

Thursday’s salary offer now calls on both sides in the doctors’ dispute to show willingness to come to a table.

Letters have been exchanged between Mr Barclay and the BMA over the last 24 hours but no agreement has been reached to start talks.

Privately, many observers say that the greatest pressure is on the doctors. If other frontline NHS workers, who are generally underpaid than junior doctors, are willing to accept a 5% increase and a one-off payment of between £1,600 and £2,500, why should doctors put up with 35% more, they ask .

Matthew Taylor of the NHS Confederation said: “Healthcare leaders will be urging young doctors and the Government to use this deal as a way to start talks to address this dispute.”

And Sir Julian Hartley, the head of NHS Providers, added there needed to be “urgent movement in the talks” and said both sides needed to “double down”.

Louise Ansari, head of patient monitoring at Healthwatch England, said: “We are now urging a speedy settlement of pay disputes between doctors and the government to avoid further delays in patient care.”

The question remains as to how any wage settlements will be paid. Ministers said they could guarantee there would be no impact on frontline services as a result of Thursday’s salary offer to NHS staff.

Mr Barclay said discussions were being held with the Treasury Department on how it would be funded and the Health Department would look at areas of underspending and administrative savings to help fund the pay deal.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called the wage deal “affordable for the taxpayer” and said it continues to deliver on its promise to halve inflation.

Strike action has also been suspended by most unions in Wales and Scotland while new offers are considered. The GMB in Scotland has accepted the Scottish offer worth 14% over two years.


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