Doctors begin three-day strike in pay dispute


Talks between the government and other health unions will continue this week in the hope of a breakthrough in the long-running NHS pay dispute…reports Asian Lite News

Thousands of junior doctors in England walked out on Monday in three-day strike that will disrupt patient care, as they protest over pay they say can work out at less per hour than a barista.

The strike is the latest involving staff at Britain’s state-funded National Health Service (NHS), following walkouts by nurses, paramedics and others demanding a pay rise that better reflects double-digit levels of inflation.

The NHS will prioritise emergency care during the strike, which could come at the cost of routine appointments, surgeries and even some urgent cancer treatments, NHS England National Medical Director Stephen Powis said.

“This is likely to be the most disruptive set of industrial action days that we’ve seen all winter,” Powis told Times Radio.

“It is going to be a hard three days and it’s going to be quite challenging.”

Junior doctors in Britain are qualified physicians, often with several years of experience.

The British Medical Association (BMA) trade union says starting pay for junior doctors can be as low as 14.09 pounds ($17.04) per hour, one pence less than the top level of pay for a barista at British coffee chain Pret A Manger.

Junior doctors agreed in 2019 to an annual 2% pay rise as part of a four-year deal but say that is now inadequate in light of much higher inflation. Last month, 98% of the nearly 37,000 who took part in the BMA’s strike ballot voted in favour.

Robert Laurenson, co-chair of the BMA’s Junior Doctors Committee, said they had seen a real terms pay cut over the last 15 years due to public sector wage freezes.

“We’re just asking for that pay to be restored, and that looks like something like 19 pounds an hour,” he told Reuters at a picket line in London.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is under pressure to help end walkouts by health workers, which also hinder one his major priorities of cutting long waiting lists for treatment.

Health minister Steve Barclay on Friday invited the BMA for formal pay talks.

“We stand ready to have those discussions, and urge them to come and engage with us,” Barclay told reporters on Monday. “I don’t think a 35% pay demand is affordable.”

A broader wave of strikes in Britain, involving hundreds of thousands of public sector workers, comes at a time of pressured public finances and as Sunak’s government prepares to deliver a budget on Wednesday.

It comes ahead of strikes by several trade unions on budget day, in what will be one of the biggest single days of industrial action in years.

Workers taking action include civil servants, teachers, university staff, London Underground drivers and BBC journalists. Rallies will be held across the country, with a big protest in Westminster.

Public sector unions have lambasted the government for its handling of the pay disputes, which have been escalating for months.

NHS leaders have said they are concerned the walkout will take disruption caused by recent strikes to the next level, posing a risk to patient safety and setting back work to bear down on care backlogs.

Talks between the government and other health unions will continue this week in the hope of a breakthrough in the long-running NHS pay dispute.

The BMA said newly qualified medics make £14.09 an hour, less than a barista in a coffee shop, adding that junior doctors in England will have suffered a 26% real-terms pay cut since 2008/09.

An advertising campaign launched by the trade union says: “Pret a Manger has announced it will pay up to £14.10 per hour. A junior doctor makes just £14.09.

“Thanks to this government you can make more serving coffee than saving patients. This week junior doctors will take strike action so they are paid what they are worth.”

Dr Robert Laurenson and Dr Vivek Trivedi, BMA junior doctors committee co-chairs, said: “Is £14.09 an hour really all junior doctors are worth? These are people who can be providing life-saving care, having trained intensively at medical school, and racking up around £100,000 worth of debt in the process.

“We are fully supportive of any worker getting an inflation-matching pay rise, and it is worth thinking on the fact that the government has cut junior doctors’ pay by so much that they could earn more serving coffee.

“Is it any surprise that junior doctors are looking for jobs abroad or in other fields when the government is telling them they are worth more than a quarter less than they were in 2008?

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told reporters: “It is very disappointing that the junior doctors’ union are not engaging with the government.

“We are actually having constructive dialogue with other unions who have accepted our offer to come in and talk through it.

“As you have seen with rail… they have put an offer to their members, we are having constructive dialogue with the nurses’ unions and all the other healthcare unions and I would urge the junior doctors to follow suit, and accept the government’s offer to come in and have talks, the other unions have done that and we are making progress.”

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