Junior doctors to stage longest strike in NHS history

1 Sep 16

Junior doctors in England are to strike for five consecutive days within the next fortnight in protest over the government’s decision to impose a controversial new contract.

The industrial action, announced by the British Medical Association this morning, will take place from 12-16 September, between 8am and 5pm, and includes emergency cover. Further five-day strikes for October, November and December have also been confirmed.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt told the BBC today he was not responsible for the failure of negotiations, and claimed he had "bent over backwards" to resolve the disagreement, making 107 concessions during talks.

He claimed the strike would cause "absolute misery" for patients and estimated the number of operations cancelled would be around 100,000, with one million hospital appointments being postponed.

The BMA’s announcement marks a new low point in the bitter dispute between government and junior doctors over a new contract that the government claims is essential to deliver more comprehensive health services at evenings and weekends – the so-called ‘seven-day’ service.

Doctors’ leaders claim the new deal does not go far enough in rewarding doctors who worked at the weekend, and is also unfair to part-time workers.

Ellen McCourt, the new chair of the BMA’s junior doctors committee, recently wrote to the organisation’s council seeking to “authorise a rolling programme of escalated industrial action beginning in September”.

Earlier this year, it appeared the BMA and the government had finally reached an agreement on the issue. However, junior doctors and medical students voted in July to reject the deal, against the advice of their BMA representatives. McCourt’s predecessor as JDC chair, Johann Malawana, resigned.

After the vote, government opted to impose the new schedule on doctors from the Autumn, rather than return to the negotiation table. 

McCourt insisted the BMA had since made repeated attempts to work with the government. However, “genuine efforts to resolve the dispute through talks have been met with an unwillingness to engage and, at times, deafening silence from the secretary of state, leaving junior doctors with no choice but to take further action. This is despite a pledge from Jeremy Hunt that his door is always open”.

“We have a simple ask of the government: stop the imposition. If it agrees to do this, junior doctors will call off industrial action,” she confirmed.

A Department of Health spokesman said: “As doctors’ representatives, the BMA should be putting patients first not playing politics in a way that will be immensely damaging for vulnerable patients. What’s more, the BMA must be the first union in history to call for strike action against a deal they themselves negotiated and said was a good one.

“Whilst there are many pressures on the frontline, funding is at record levels, with the highest number of doctors employed in the history of the NHS. Co-operation not confrontation is the way forward to make sure patients get the best treatment and the NHS is there for people whenever they need it.”

Responding to the BMA’s announcement, Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, said the organisation was “shocked and saddened” that the BMA Council had supported the call from the junior doctors committee for further industrial action.

He said: “The proposed action is extreme in its scale and timing and shows scant regard for patients, nor to their colleagues who will have to work under even greater pressure when this industrial action goes ahead.”

Many thousands of operations and appointments would need to be cancelled or rearranged, causing “distress, delay and pain” to patients, he added.


Did you enjoy this article?