Tens of thousands of junior doctors in England will strike for three days from 13 March in an increasingly bitter row over pay, morale and safe staffing levels, the British Medical Association has announced.
In only the second such action in the 74-year-history of the NHS, junior doctors will strike for 72 hours continuously after 98% of those who voted favoured strike action.
Junior doctors who are members of the Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association will also strike for the first time in their union’s history, on 15 March, joining BMA members on the third day of their action.
The NHS faces the grim prospect of having to cancel hundreds of thousands of operations and medical appointments, derailing recent progress made in tackling the enormous care backlog that was worsened considerably by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The BMA was “left with no option but to proceed” and announce the dates of the unprecedented action after Steve Barclay, the health secretary, twice rejected offers from junior doctors to meet with them this week, it said.
“Make no mistake, this strike was absolutely in the government’s gift to avert; they know it, we know it and our patients also need to know it,” said Dr Rob Laurenson and Dr Vivek Trivedi, co-chairs of the BMA junior doctors’ committee, in a joint statement. “We have written many times and even as late as yesterday we were hopeful Steve Barclay would recognise the need to meet with us to find a workable solution that could have averted this strike.”
Ministers have been given the freedom to talk to unions about pay settlements that could include backdated or one-off payments as ways to end the escalating series of public sector strikes. But Downing Street says it is critical unions agree to call off planned industrial action before talks can begin, as the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) did on Tuesday.
The RCN called off a 48-hour strike it had planned to hold in England next Wednesday and Thursday – including A&E and intensive care nurses for the first time – after Barclay agreed to hold “intensive” face-to-face talks with its general secretary, Pat Cullen, on nurses’ pay for the first time since 9 January.
However, so far Barclay has refused to meet with junior doctors. “We have not been told why we have not been offered intensive negotiations nor what we need to do for the government to begin negotiations with us,” said Laurenson and Trivedi. “We are left with no option but to proceed with this action.
“How in all conscience, can the health secretary continue to put his head in the sand and hope that by not meeting with us, this crisis of his government’s making, will somehow just disappear?”
Barclay said this week he valued the work of junior doctors and wanted “to continue discussing how we can make the NHS a better place to work for all”.