Junior doctors have mounted picket lines again on Wednesday after launching a three-day strike over pay amid warnings of an exodus of staff because of “unbearable” working conditions in the NHS.
Members of the British Medical Association (BMA) took industrial action across England as the long-running row looked further away than ever from being resolved.
The BMA has urged the Prime Minister to get involved in talks but it was made clear he is not going to intervene.
Health Secretary Steve Barclay wrote to the BMA “replying on the Prime Minister’s behalf”.
He said: “If you show a willingness to move from your unreasonable position of pay rises of 35% this year, or at least 49% next year, and agreed to pause strikes, I would be ready to continue talks.
“That position remains. If you pause strikes, both ongoing and planned, and show willingness to move significantly, then I will be willing to meet you and the junior doctors committee at your earliest convenience.
“It is only by negotiating in good faith and seeking a reasonable outcome together that we will resolve this dispute.”
There is no sign of the BMA changing its demand for a pay rise to make up for a decade of wages falling further behind inflation.
A survey by the BMA revealed that many junior doctors are planning to quit their jobs over pay and staffing issues.
79% of Juniors in England have no confidence that the Health Secretary can deliver a resolution to the ongoing dispute.
— Junior Doctors (@BMA_JuniorDocs) June 14, 2023
A junior doctor two years into his career said he had “definitely considered” moving to “another country where pay and conditions are better for doctors than they are here”.
Chris Morris, a BMA deputy chairman for Yorkshire, was one of around 15 medics on a picket line outside Leeds General Infirmary.
He said there “won’t be any staff left working in the NHS” if the Government continued its “chronic underfunding and not valuing staff”.
“The Government needs to recognise the value of junior doctors.
“It (moving abroad) is something I’ve definitely considered, along with many of my colleagues.”
A junior doctor who is considering moving to Australia for better pay has described working for the NHS as “unbearable”.
Sumi Manirajan, 29, said: “It used to be that winter was horrific and the rest of the year was normal service.
“Now it’s winter all year round. It’s become unbearable working for the NHS.
“It’s awful seeing patient after patient having the worst outcomes in terms of waiting times.”
Ms Manirajan added: “Now I’m even considering leaving for Australia. My pay would be fair there.
“Doctors don’t want to go but we’re being forced to leave the NHS.
A trainee anaesthetist has said she is struggling to pay rent, as junior doctors strike.
Speaking outside University College Hospital, London, Arianna Zembryzcka, 27, criticised proposed pay reforms, saying: “The Government’s 5% pay rise was frankly disrespectful and disgraceful.
“It will not even cover this year’s inflation let alone years of pay erosion.
“Even on my salary I am struggling to pay rent in London, which is expensive. Earning £14 an hour is simply not enough.”
BMA regional co-chairman James Collins, who was in a picket line in Brighton, said the current action by junior doctors is not just a reaction to current high inflation, but from 15 years of being undervalued.
The anaesthetic registrar said the health service had deteriorated since he began training as a doctor in 2010, adding: “Staffing is worse, maintenance of buildings is worse.
“For two of my years I was in A&E, the pressure in A&E is insane.”
The 30-year-old added: “I enjoy my job, it’s a fulfilling job…(but) it’s the cumulative stress and issues here, there and everywhere.
“I have never worked on a rota where there isn’t a rota gap. That is an entire year’s worth of work that isn’t being done… me and my team are constantly making up for one missing doctor.”
NHS England chief executive Amanda Pritchard described the strike as posing a “risk to patient safety”.
“We must prioritise the management of what is a serious business continuity incident and therefore a serious risk to patient safety,” she told the NHS Confed Expo conference.
She added: “As much as we learn from managing each action every time it happens, it creates risk and upheaval and distracts from our priorities, particularly elective recovery.
“Over half-a-million appointments have already had to be rescheduled – many of those people will have been waiting months.
“It’s likely we’ll see tens of thousands more affected this week.”
It is the third set of strikes by junior doctors in England since the dispute flared last year.
Junior doctors in Scotland will strike next month.
Sir Julian Hartley, chief executive at NHS Providers said: “Trust leaders have had to manage a demanding start to what was already going to be a very tough week involving strikes.
“In the days leading up to this walkout, a number of emergency departments were under significant pressure with several reporting record attendances.
“One trust saw over 1,000 people present across their two emergency departments in just one day – hundreds more patients above what’s usually considered very high.
“Minor injuries units have also been under stress, with lots of patients with respiratory issues amid rising pollen and pollution levels, as well as dehydration due to the heat.
“Trust leaders’ priority is to keep patients safe and deliver high-quality care, but this is becoming increasingly challenging as strikes continue. It’s also becoming significantly more expensive due to the cost of covering staff on the picket line.
“More than half a million appointments and procedures have had to be postponed due to industrial action since December, and the chief executive of NHS England today warned this figure will likely rise by tens of thousands this week.
“We cannot go on like this. We urge the Government and unions to re-enter negotiations so we can put an end to this disruption and focus on treating patients.”