Medical leaders have condemned the proposed series of five-day strikes by junior doctors, as the row over a new contract intensifies.
A week of strikes by junior doctors this month will be followed by three more five-day walkouts in October, November and December in England.
The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges said it was “disappointed” and the proposed strikes were disproportionate.
The British Medical Association said it was “absolutely behind” the action.
The move escalates what has become the worst industrial relations dispute in the history of the NHS.
Hospitals will see junior doctors stage walkouts from 08:00 to 17:00 BST from:
- Monday 12 September to Friday 16 September
- Wednesday 5 October to Tuesday 11 October (although the weekend will be covered)
- Monday 14 November to Friday 18 November
- Monday 5 December to Friday 9 December
BMA junior doctor leader Dr Ellen McCourt said the government could stop the strikes by calling off the imposition of the contract, which is due to be rolled out from October.
“Junior doctors still have serious concerns with the contract, particularly that it will fuel the current workforce crisis, and that it fails to treat all doctors fairly,” she said.
“The government has consistently said this is about creating a seven-day NHS, when junior doctors already work weekends and it’s been shown that the government has no answer to how it will staff and fund extra weekend care.”
However, leading health bodies have called for the strikes to be called off. The strikes threaten to cause chaos in the lead-up to winter – the busiest time of year for the NHS.
The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges said in a statement: “We know there are genuine concerns about the contract and working arrangements, but we do not consider the proposed strikes are proportionate.
“Five days of strike action, particularly at such short notice, will cause real problems for patients, the service and the profession.”
Kathy McLean, executive medical director at NHS Improvement, also questioned the decision to strike and urged junior doctors to call it off.
“Trusts across the country are working hard to ensure they are as prepared as possible in order to provide the best service to patients, who are likely to be severely inconvenienced by this industrial action,” she said.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt described this month’s strike as “devastating news”, predicting it would lead to the cancellation of 100,000 operations and one million appointments.
Prime Minister Theresa May called on doctors to stop “playing politics” in the dispute and urged the union to cancel the strikes.
Katherine Murphy, of the Patients Association, said she was “gravely concerned” about the prospect of five days of strikes, which would have a “catastrophic impact”.
The worried patient
Simon Emmet has a kidney stone and is waiting for surgery.
“I can’t see that the strikes won’t delay my surgery. There are only two people at the hospital that can carry it out, meaning I already have a four-week waiting time.
“I’ve been to A&E with abdominal pain twice in the last week. I constantly feel nauseous and I’m in constant pain. I have to take very strong painkillers which make me drowsy.
“I work from home as an IT consultant and I have to balance taking enough painkillers so I can work through the pain, but not so many that I’m too dopey to work.
“I’d really like to believe the doctors have the patients’ best interest at heart but it doesn’t seem right. They’ve been arguing about this for three years.”
But Hamed Khan, a GP in south London and a member of the BMA national council who voted in favour of the strikes, said the public “appreciates that [junior doctors] have patients’ interests at heart”.
“I think they also appreciate that junior doctors work incredibly hard,” he added.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said Mr Hunt should stop treating NHS staff as the “enemy”.
“What needs to happen now is the secretary of state to get round a table urgently with the BMA and recognise that the junior doctors are the heart, soul, and lifeblood of our National Health Service,” he said.
The imposed contract
- Basic pay to rise between 10% and 11% on average
- System of supplements paid which are determined by how many weekends – those working one in two will get 10% on top of basic salary
- Nights to attract an enhanced rate of 37% above normal time
- Replaces old system whereby weekend or night work can attract up to double time
- First doctors to go on new terms in October with much of the rest of the workforce to follow by next summer
- The British Medical Association says it is not fair on those that work the most weekends or part-timers
The five-day strikes come after junior doctors already took part in six strikes this year, including two all-out stoppages.
Industrial action was put on hold in May when the two sides got back round the table at conciliation service Acas.
That resulted in the agreement of a new contract, which BMA leaders encouraged members to accept.
But when it was put to the vote, 58% of medics rejected it, prompting the resignation of the BMA junior doctor leader Johann Malawana and causing ministers to announce once again that they would impose the new terms and conditions.
A new junior doctor leader, Dr McCourt, was appointed and, in August, the committee she leads called for the union’s leaders to sanction the fresh strikes which have now been announced.
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