Senior doctors in England to vote on industrial action

BMA says consultant pay has declined by 35% since 2008-9

Senior doctors in England are to vote on whether to strike amid the continued row over pay in healthcare, as teachers’ unions also plan to hold a ballot for industrial action.

The ballot will open on Monday until 27 June as the British Medical Association urges members to approve.

Dr Vishal Sharma, who chairs the BMA consultants committee, said talks were held with the government in an attempt to resolve the dispute, but the deadlock persisted.

“We have seen our take-home pay decline by 35% since 2008-9 and this is even before the impact of this year’s soaring inflation has been considered,” he said, speaking on behalf of consultants. “As a result of this, consultants are now effectively working four months of the year for free.

“Even as late as this weekend, we remained hopeful that we would secure a pay offer that went some way toward making up for the decline we have seen. Unfortunately however, given that inflation remains in double digits, the final offer from government represented yet another real-terms pay cut.

“On the back of 15 years of our pay declining, we simply could not accept a deal that continued this downward trend and have been left with no option but to proceed today with the ballot for industrial action.”

Sharma said consultants did not want to take industrial action, adding: “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.”

Meanwhile, a nurses’ union is preparing a ballot on whether to strike again after its leader requested a double-figure pay rise for nurses.

Pat Cullen, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), initially encouraged RCN members to accept the government’s offer of a 5% rise for 2023-24 and a one-off payment worth between £1,655 and £3,789. However, this was rejected in a vote by 54% to 46%.

Speaking to the Sunday Times, Cullen called on the health secretary, Steve Barclay, to restart negotiations and said the numbers need to “start off in double figures”.

Grant Shapps, the energy secretary, told Sky News he found Cullen’s change of position to be “confusing”.

Two teachers’ unions will also open new strike ballots on Monday, raising the prospect of coordinated industrial action in the autumn term that would cause widespread disruption to schools in England.

The National Education Union (NEU), which has already staged strikes this year in pursuit of its claim for a fully funded, above-inflation pay rise, is reballoting members as its current mandate for industrial action ends on 13 July.

Members of the National Association of Head Teachers will also be asked to vote on whether they are in favour of taking strike action, after failing to reach the legal threshold for turnout in an earlier ballot.

Other unions are also expected to ballot their members after all four education unions rejected the government’s final pay offer of a £1,000 bonus and a 4.5% average pay increase next year.

Dr Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney, NEU joint general secretaries, said: “The pay and funding offer made by [the education secretary] Gillian Keegan following six days of talks in March was simply not good enough, and teachers branded it an insult.

“Our reballot would allow the NEU to coordinate action with other teacher unions in the autumn term if government does not provide a settlement to the dispute.”

The Department for Education said: “It is bitterly disappointing that unions continue to pursue strike action, despite having already cost children almost a week in school.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We hugely value the work of NHS consultants and they received a 4.5% pay uplift last financial year, increasing average earnings to around £128,000.

“We urge the BMA to carefully consider the likely impact of any action on patients.”


Danya Hajjaji and Sally Weale

The GuardianTramp

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