The BMA has secured backing for its plans for NHS consultants to take industrial action on 20 and 21 July 2023.
Nearly nine in 10 (86%) of eligible consultants voted in favour of strike action in the ballot, which saw a 71% turnout. Only consultants who are members of the BMA could take part in the vote.
If the strike goes ahead, it will be the first time senior NHS doctors have gone on strike since 1975.
Their decision will add to the Government’s woes in trying to achieve its targets to reduce the elective backlog, with junior doctors already due to take the NHS’s longest-ever strike action 13-18 July.
‘Repeatedly devalued by Government’
Dr Vishal Sharma, BMA consultants committee chair, said consultants had not taken their decision around industrial action ‘lightly’ but the vote shows ‘how furious they are at being repeatedly devalued by Government’.
‘Consultants are not worth a third less than we were 15 years ago and have had enough. Consultants don’t want to have to take industrial action, but have been left with no option in the face of a Government that continues to cut our pay year after year.’
But he stressed that ‘it is not too late to avert strike action and the Government simply needs come back to us with a credible offer that we can put to our members’.
‘We are simply asking for fairness to ensure that there is a pay settlement that begins to reverse the real-terms pay decline that we have suffered and a commitment to fully reform the pay review process to ensure that it can make truly independent recommendations in the future that take into account historical losses so that we don’t find ourselves in this situation again. But if they refuse, it is with a heavy heart that we will take action next month,’ Dr Sharma said.
He added doctors will ‘prioritise patient safety and continue to provide emergency care, in-keeping with the level of services available on Christmas Day’.
And he said: ‘Consultants are the NHS’s most experienced, highly-skilled clinicians, and are responsible not just for providing specialist care patients, but also leading entire services and training the doctors of the future. The Government can and must fix consultant pay now and for the future. Failure to do so will lead consultants to leave the NHS and the country, or towards retirement before their time.
‘The loss of this expertise would be devastating for services, patients and the future of the NHS.’
Reopening talks on the cards
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘We hugely value the work of NHS consultants and it is disappointing the BMA consultants have voted to take strike action. Consultants received a 4.5% pay uplift last financial year, increasing average earnings to around £128,000, and they will benefit from generous changes to pension taxation announced at budget.
‘Strikes are hugely disruptive for patients and put pressure on other NHS staff. We’ve been engaging with the BMA Consultants Committee on their concerns already and stand ready to open talks again – we urge them to come to the negotiating table rather than proceeding with their proposed strike dates.
‘We urge the BMA to carefully consider the likely impact of any action on patients.’
The Government has welcomed the news that there will be no further nursing strike action as unions have failed to secure required mandates.
In response, a Government spokesperson said: ‘We hugely value the work of nurses and welcome the end to hugely disruptive industrial action so staff can continue caring for patients and cutting waiting lists.
‘More than one million eligible NHS staff are receiving their pay rise and one-off payments this month, with an experienced nurse receiving over £5,100 in extra pay across last year and this year. We are committed to supporting nurses to continue to progress and develop, including as part of the upcoming NHS Long Term Workforce Plan.
‘We hope other unions who remain in dispute with the Government recognise it is time to stop industrial action and move forward together.’
Radiographers in the UK have also recently been balloted over strike action. The Society of Radiographers (SoR) closed the ballot on 28 June and the results are due in the coming days.
SoR executive director Dean Rogers said: ‘Radiographers and doctors shouldn’t be having to threaten strike action to get the Government’s attention but unless they listen, engage and revisit their 5%, many more will likely be joining us again before the end of the year.’