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Junior doctors to ballot for 72-hour walkout

Junior doctors to ballot for 72-hour walkout
By Jess Hacker
6 January 2023

Junior doctors will stage a 72-hour walkout if their ballot for industrial action is successful, the BMA has told the Government.

The BMA’s members will be balloted from Monday (9 January), with the walkout set to take place in March if the threshold for industrial action is met.

It comes as the Government yesterday invited trade unions to discuss introducing a ‘safety net of minimum service levels’, following reports Prime Minister Rishi Sunak intends to introduce anti-strike law.

The BMA has now urged health secretary Steve Barclay to meet with doctors to avoid strike action in the spring. According to the BMA, Mr Barclay is the first health secretary in more than 50 years to ignore its invitations for negotiation.

Real terms pay cuts over the last 15 years have amounted to a 26.1% decline in pay since 2008/09, which has exacerbated the staffing crisis, the BMA said.

Dr Vivek Trivedi and Dr Robert Laurenson, co-chairs of the BMA junior doctors committee, said: ‘Junior doctors are not worth a quarter less than they were fifteen years ago nor do they deserve to be valued so little by their own Government.

‘Pay erosion, exhaustion and despair are forcing junior doctors out of the NHS, pushing waiting lists even higher as patients suffer needlessly. The Government’s refusal to address fifteen years of pay erosion has given junior doctors no choice but to ballot for industrial action. If the Government won’t fight for our health service, then we will.’

Junior doctors are the latest in the NHS to take to the picket line, after nurses walked out for two days in December, followed shortly by ambulance staff.

Now, the Government has issued an invitation to all trade unions to establish a ‘safety net’, which would see a minimum level of service to ‘ensure the public are not put at risk’.

Business Secretary Grant Shapps said that introducing minimum safety levels would ‘restore the balance between those seeking to strike and protecting the public’ from any disruption.

But the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) described the Government’s plan as ‘undemocratic’.

Pat Cullen, RCN general secretary and chief executive, said the motion would curtail workers’ freedom to participate in lawful action.

She said: ‘As for minimum staffing, last month’s action was safe for patients because of detailed discussions we chose to initiate with the NHS to protect emergency services and life-saving care. The public respected that and even ministers acknowledged our constructive approach.’

And the BMA said named the invitation ‘anti-worker’, and accused the Government of acting under ‘the false pretence of improving patient safety’.

Dr Emma Runswick, BMA deputy chair of council, said: ‘Rather than fixing the root of the problem – the reasons why so many public sector workers feel they have no option but to strike – ministers are focussing their attention on the rules around industrial action. They are willing to risk infringing human rights while doing nothing about the NHS pay and working conditions crises they refuse to even acknowledge.’

Jon Richards, UNISON assistant general secretary, said that minimum staffing levels would be welcomes by NHS staff.

‘That could avoid people being left lying in agony on A&E floors or dying in the backs of ambulances,’ he said.

‘The NHS is on its knees because of record vacancies. The idea of limiting legal staffing levels to strike days and threatening to sack or fine health workers at such a time shows proper patient care isn’t ministers’ priority.’

Yesterday, Labour leader Keir Starmer said his Government would repeal any anti-strike legislation introduced.

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