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NHS England bosses join calls for Government to resume strike talks as winter pressures loom

‘Serious discussions’ must resume between the Government and doctors to end strike action ahead of winter, NHS England bosses said today.

At this afternoon’s board meeting, NHS England chair Richard Meddings stressed that winter pressures ‘impossible to manage’ if also impacted by strike action.

And chief executive Amanda Pritchard noted talks between the Government and doctors needed to urgently resume.

Following months of strike action, consultants and junior doctors have jointly been striking for three full days this week, with ‘Christmas Day’-level cover.

Mr Meddings told the board that it is ‘simply not sustainable to continue to operate with this amount of disruption’.

He said: ‘There’s simply not enough staff on “Christmas Day cover” days to complete the usual tasks while also dealing with business-as-usual levels of demand.

‘It would be impossible to manage this coming into the winter period. But we will continue of course to do all we can to keep caring for patients, putting them first but we urgently need to see a clear path to resolution and for all parties to work together to do the right thing by patients and to find an agreement to this dispute.’

Ms Pritchard said that the focus of NHS England’s discussions with both unions and Government regarding the strike action continues to be patient safety.

She added: ‘We all want to see serious discussions resume between unions and Government and with winter approaching that cannot happen soon enough.’

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The Department of Health and Social Care declined to comment and instead pointed towards a previous statement.

This saw health secretary Steve Barclay urging unions ‘to end their relentless strike action’ and argued that doctors ‘have received a fair and reasonable pay rise – as recommended by the independent pay review body, which we’ve accepted in full’. 

The BMA has repeatedly asked the Government to return to the negotiating table, with consultants saying this week that they are willing to involve reconciliation service ACAS and revive strike action discussions.

Yesterday NHS England told the British Medical Association (BMA) in a formal warning letter that ‘cumulative’ impact of doctor strikes are now causing ‘significant disruption and risk to patients’.

However the BMA argued that patient safety is being put at risk due to strike planning failures by NHS England.

BMA council chair Professor Phil Banfield said that the union has always been open to discussing ways to maintain patient safety.

BMA Cymru Wales has announced it will ballot junior doctors in Wales for strike action for six weeks from the 6 November. If successful, it will lead to a 72-hour full walk-out by participating junior doctors in Wales.

This comes following ’the Welsh Government’s failure to make any effort to restore junior doctors’ pay, which has left BMA Cymru Wales with no choice but to enter a trade dispute and ballot for strike action’, it said.

A version of this story was originally published by our sister publication Pulse.