A ballot for industrial action by consultants in England has opened after pay talks with the Government broke down, the BMA has announced.
The Government’s final pay offer represented a real-terms pay cut, the BMA noted, which would continue the downward trend seen over the past 15 years. Indeed, even before taking inflation into account, consultants’ take-home pay has declined by 35% since 2008/9.
‘As a result of this, consultants are now effectively working four months of the year for free,’ said Dr Vishal Sharma, chair of the BMA consultants committee. He added that they had been left with ‘no option but to proceed with the ballot for industrial action‘.
While Dr Sharma acknowledged the constructive manner in which the talks were approached by Government officials, he highlighted that ‘ultimately the Government made a political choice to cut our pay again this year and unless we can secure a commitment that the Government will take the necessary steps to restore our pay over the long term, we simply cannot accept an offer that sees our pay fall even further.’
The ballot, which opened on Monday, will remain open until 27 June 2023. In the meantime, the BMA is urging the Government to return to talks and put forward a ‘reasonable offer’.
This comes after a consultative ballot in February 2023 saw 17,000 BMA-member NHS consultants in England voting for strike action. Turnout was 61% and 86% voted in favour of strike action. While not a legal mandate for strike action, the BMA stressed this ’emphatic result’ and the apparent ‘strength of the anger amongst England’s senior doctors’.
‘Consultants are not worth a third less than they were 15 years ago,’ Dr Sharma continued. ‘With elective waiting lists standing at 7.3 million, we cannot afford to lose any more highly experienced clinicians who are leaving or taking breaks from the NHS due to pay erosion. NHS patients deserve better than an understaffed health service, and NHS staff deserve better than a Government which does not recognise their worth at a time of global shortages of skilled healthcare professionals.’
If consultants do vote in favour of a walk out, it will be the first time since 1975 that senior doctors will have taken such action.