Published by BBC NEWS - 23rd February 2024
  • Published
Picket line outside St Thomas' Hospital LondonImage source, PA Media

Junior doctors in England are beginning their 10th strike in their long-running pay dispute with the government.

The five-day walkout gets under way at 07:00 GMT, with NHS bosses warning it will cause major disruption.

Hospital operations and check ups will be worst hit as half of doctors in hospitals are junior doctors.

The British Medical Association (BMA) has asked for a 35% pay rise, but ministers have described the pay claim as unreasonable.

Health Secretary Victoria Atkins said she was disappointed junior doctors were continuing with strike action.

“No one should underestimate the impact these strikes have on our NHS. So again, I urge the BMA to call off their strikes,” she said.

But BMA junior doctor leaders Dr Robert Laurenson and Dr Vivek Trivedi said: “The government could have stopped these strikes by simply making a credible pay offer to begin reversing the pay cuts they have inflicted upon us for more than a decade.”

What do patients need to know?

Two-thirds of junior doctors are members of the BMA, although the much smaller Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association will also be taking part in strike action.

Routine hospital services are expected to face the most disruption because senior doctors are being drafted across to provide cover in emergency care.

NHS England is advising patients in a life-threatening emergency to call 999 as usual, but for everything else to use 111.

Patients who have routine appointments should attend as normal unless they have been told otherwise.

There is also expected to be some disruption to GP services.

Chart showing strike impact

Rory Deighton, of the NHS Confederation, which represents hospitals, said the impact on patients would be significant and the walkout would “further jeopardise efforts” to get waiting lists down.

He urged the two sides to get back to talks, adding: “Patients are the ones being left to pick up the pieces of this ongoing dispute.”

What do patients think?

This walkout marks almost a year of strikes by junior doctors – the first was in mid-March last year.

The latest polling from YouGov shows support for junior doctors has fallen since last year, but a majority still support them, 50% compared to 43% opposing.

Nigel Hunt

Image source, Nigel Hunt

Nigel Hunt, 60, is one of the lucky patients in that he has not faced disruption so far.

Nigel was diagnosed with bowel cancer last year and his treatment is keeping his cancer at bay at the moment.

He says his chemotherapy has fallen on a strike day previously and not been cancelled.

“I find myself having to both support and not support the junior doctors,” he said.

“I support them because they have been treated badly and they do deserve a decent pay rise.”

But he says when they do strike he worries his treatment will be affected so as a patient he has concerns.

Toni Rush, 34, from West Yorkshire, is less sympathetic. She was due to have an operation on an anal fissure on Wednesday, but this has now been put back to mid-March

She has been struggling with the problem for a year.

“To have waited so long and to have the operation cancelled just like that… it’s annoying and frustrating – and I’m by no means in the worst position,” she said.

How far apart are the two sides?

Junior doctors received a pay rise averaging nearly 9% this financial year – and during talks at the end of last year, the option of an extra 3% on top of that was discussed.

But those talks ended in early December without a deal being reached.

The BMA is after 35% to make up for what it says is 15 years of below-inflation pay rises.

Chart showing junior doctors basic pay at each point on the pay scale in England showing pay is 6% plus £1,250 higher in 2023-24 compared with 2022-23; starting at £32,398 for those on the bottom rung of the pay scale moving up to £63,152 for those on the top level.

There have been no formal talks since those negotiations ended and the BMA is boycotting the pay review process for next year, refusing to provide evidence to the independent pay review body that makes recommendations on pay rises.

Instead, the union is balloting members for a new six-month strike mandate.

This strike is the last one the BMA can hold under the current mandate as it expires at the end of the month.

The results of the ballot are expected in late March.

Consultants in England have taken part in walkouts as well, but no further action is planned as talks take place between the government and the BMA. A fresh pay offer was narrowly rejected by BMA members last month.

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