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Senior NHS doctors in England turned up the pressure on ministers in their campaign for higher pay on Thursday, announcing three consecutive days of industrial action during the ruling Conservative party’s annual conference in October.
The announcement by the British Medical Association came at the start of the latest 48-hour strike by consultants. The planned walkout between October 2 and 4 would be the longest stoppage so far in the dispute, which started last month.
The union, which has previously announced further dates for industrial action in September, said consultants would walk out again during the Tory party conference in “the absence of any progress in discussions with government”.
Dr Vishal Sharma, BMA consultants committee chair, called on prime minister Rishi Sunak to intervene and avoid further disruption to the NHS during his party’s conference. “Wouldn’t Mr Sunak like to be able to tell his colleagues and the public that he has resolved this dispute . . . rather than apologising and making excuses for why he’s forced us out on strike once more?” he asked.
The government disclosed this week that ministers had not met the consultants’ leaders since March 27, despite the result of the ballot for industrial action being announced in late June. Health minister Will Quince also said there had been no meeting with junior doctors, who are in a separate dispute over pay, since May 12.
Dr Vin Diwakar, NHS national medical director for secondary care, warned that the latest 48-hour walkout by consultants, during which they will continue to provide emergency care, would bring routine hospital work to a standstill and its impact would be compounded by staff holidays and the warm weather.
He said with each strike it became harder to bring services back on track and warned that “the cumulative effect after nearly nine months for patients, staff and the NHS as a whole [was] enormous.”
NHS Providers, which represents health organisations across England, said official figures showed more than 897,000 routine procedures and appointments had been delayed since the NHS was hit by the latest wave of strikes in December when nurses walked out. Nursing and other staff unions have since ended their industrial action.
Julian Hartley, its chief executive, cautioned the true figure was “likely to be significantly higher” because of appointments that would not have been booked in during previous strikes. “The government and unions must find a solution urgently,” he said, estimating the strikes had cost the NHS £1bn so far.
Health secretary Steve Barclay said the latest strike would “hamper efforts to cut NHS waiting lists” and urged the BMA to call an end to the industrial action.
He said the government had accepted the independent pay review body recommendations in full, which meant NHS consultants earned on average £134,000 “on top of a pension where generous tax changes mean a consultant can retire at age 65 with a pension each year for life of £78,000 a year.”
But the BMA said consultants’ take-home pay had fallen by more than a third in the last 15 years and urged the government to present a “credible” offer.
Wes Streeting, Labour’s shadow health secretary, accused Sunak of refusing to speak to doctors “and instead shamelessly [using] them as an excuse for his failure to cut waiting lists.”