Junior doctors set strike date in historic first

Junior doctors are poised to strike next month – with a union boss warning a “spiraling staffing crisis” was taking a “huge emotional toll” on his members. The Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association (HCSA) will stage its walkout on March 15 after 97 percent backed industrial nation off a turnout of nearly 75 percent in a ballot of its 3,500 members held last month.

It makes the first time in the union’s history that it has gone on strike and President Dr Naru Narayanan stressed that it was not a decision which members had taken lightly.

He explained: “Junior doctors have held together patient care amid a spiraling staffing crisis.

“In return for this huge emotional, mental and physical toll they’ve been subjected to a decade of real-terms pay cuts totaling over 26 percent. Enough is enough.

“Our NHS is in an intolerable situation, and junior doctors will not be taken for granted anymore.”

Instead, they were taking “decisive action”, for both their patients and their own well-being, Dr Narayanan stressed.

He added: “Falling pay, increasing workloads and dangerous levels of understaffing have driven carers across the NHS to strike.

“The blame for this lies solely with a complacent Government, seemingly content to let patient care suffer.

“The ball is firmly in the government’s court. It must act now to negotiate a proper pay increase – part of a wider funding package for the NHS.

“Junior doctors are telling us that without change they will leave the NHS or leave the country entirely for better-paid medical jobs elsewhere. Our health service simply cannot afford for that to happen.”

Speaking to Express.co.uk in January, days after the ballot result, Michael (not his real name), a 36-year-old doctor who qualified 12 years ago, said: “Pay has eroded by 26 percent in real terms since 2008 – over 20 percent since I qualified.

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“And now working conditions in the NHS have deteriorated to the point where this pay simply doesn’t come close to reflecting the hard work and expertise of the job.”

He continued: “The workforce in burned-out, spent, and demoralized – especially working through the winter crisis and not being able to provide patients with the level of care they deserve.

“One of the ‘benefits’ often mentioned about working in the NHS is the ‘camaraderie’.

“During Covid there was the knowledge that the pandemic would pass and that we were all in this together. Now there’s no longer a ‘light at the end of the tunnel’.”

In a remark aimed at Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, Michael said: “I hope the message sent will be that the government has to stop taking doctors and other NHS workers for granted.

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“We are no longer prepared to be undervalued or overlooked – we will start voting with our feet.”

The British Medical Association (BMA), which has a membership in excess of 170,000, is also voting for strike action, with the vote due to close today. If they support doing so, its members will stage a 72-hour walkout this month.

Ambulance workers are also staging strikes today.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We hugely value the work of junior doctors and we have been clear that supporting and retaining the NHS workforce is one of our main priorities.

“As part of a multi-year deal we agreed with the BMA, junior doctors’ pay has increased by a cumulative 8.2% since 2019/20. We also introduced a higher pay band for the most experienced staff and increased rates for night shifts.

“The Health and Social Care Secretary has met with the BMA and other medical unions to discuss pay, conditions and workload. He’s been clear he wants to continue discussing how we can make the make the NHS a better place to work for all.”

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