Junior doctors should call off strike if parties agree to talks – health leaders

There are rising concerns about the impact of upcoming strikes.

Junior doctors have been urged to call off strikes if parties agree to talks
Junior doctors have been urged to call off strikes if parties agree to talks (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Junior doctors in England should call off their upcoming strike if major political parties pledge to reopen talks as a priority after the General Election, health leaders have said.

The NHS Confederation called on politicians and the British Medical Association (BMA) to come to a compromise in a bid to avert the disruptive walkout.

It said the main parties should promise to reopen negotiations with junior doctors within 10 days of forming a new government.

In return, doctors in training should call off the strike, the NHS Confederation said.

Junior doctors in England are preparing to stage a full walkout for five days starting from 7am on June 27.

The strike is set to end just two days before voters go to the polls.

When the union announced the strike, it said that if Prime Minister Rishi Sunak made a “concrete commitment to restore doctors’ pay” during his campaign “that is acceptable to the BMA’s junior doctors committee, then no strikes need go ahead”.

In May, the Government and the BMA entered mediated talks to try to resolve the dispute.

But they failed to reach agreement before parliamentary business was concluded in the run up to the election.

The last strike by junior doctors, from February 24 to 28 this year, led to 91,048 appointments, operations and procedures being postponed.

The strike will be the 11th walkout by junior doctors in England since the dispute began
The strike will be the 11th walkout by junior doctors in England since the dispute began (Danny Lawson/PA)

In comments shared with the PA news agency, Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: “The BMA Junior Doctor Committee’s (JDC) behaviour in calling these strikes because the mediation process between them and the Sunak administration had to be put on hold due to the election has caused real consternation.

“Holding strikes in the middle of an election campaign may be an effective way to get publicity but no political party is in a position to bring these long-running dispute to a close until a new government is formed.

“The BMA JDC must find a meaningful compromise with whoever forms the next government because of the huge impact these strikes are having on the NHS and above all patients.”

He said strikes leave patients “waiting for their treatments to be rescheduled, often in pain and discomfort and sometimes with poorer outcomes”.

(PA Graphics/Press Association Images)

Mr Taylor added: “The last thing health leaders and their teams want is more disruption when they are working flat out to improve performance and drive down waiting lists. Some good progress has been made coming out of a very difficult winter but this industrial action risks throwing that off course.

“We urge politicians of all stripes – who may have friends, family or constituents relying on the NHS – to pledge to open talks with the BMA within 10 days of taking office and in return, we call on the BMA to respond by halting this planned disruption. If they can compromise it will be at least one positive thing to come out of this election campaign.”

The NHS Confederation has said that even if strikes are not called off, parties should pledge to engage formally with the BMA within the first 10 days of their forming a new government.

Around 1.5 million appointments have been postponed since the current wave of industrial action began in the NHS in England in December 2022, with the service seeing many staff groups on picket lines including paramedics, consultants, nurses and physiotherapists.

Dr Robert Laurenson and Dr Vivek Trivedi, co-chairs of the BMA junior doctors committee, accused NHS Confederation of having “little understanding” on what is needed to resolve the dispute.

They added: “Matthew Taylor is wrong to say we called this strike because talks were put on hold for the election – we called a strike because of repeated failures by the Government to make a credible offer.

“Let us be clear: these strikes can be stopped right now, by the Prime Minister making a public commitment to restoring doctors’ pay that we find credible.

“While we would welcome all parties’ recognition of the need to fix doctors’ pay erosion, 20 months into this dispute, the promise of further talks that go nowhere, and extend this dispute unnecessarily, will not be enough for junior doctors.”

Health Secretary Victoria Atkins said: “Prior to the General Election we had entered into negotiations with the junior doctors’ committee overseen by an external mediator, and we would return to that process immediately if re-elected.”