BMA accuses NHS managers of 'misusing' requests for striking doctors to return to wards

4 January 2024, 16:11 | Updated: 4 January 2024, 16:14

The union is seeking "pay restoration" to 2008 levels, which it has estimated as the equivalent of a 35 per cent pay rise.
The union is seeking "pay restoration" to 2008 levels, which it has estimated as the equivalent of a 35 per cent pay rise. Picture: Alam
Jasmine Moody

By Jasmine Moody

NHS managers have sent over 20 requests for doctors to return to wards over patient safety concerns - but the British Medical Association has accused them of 'misusing' these calls.

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In an agreement between the British Medical Association (BMA) and the NHS, junior doctors can be asked to return to their jobs if there are patient safety concerns.

Even so, the BMA has accused NHS managers of "misusing the requests", consequentially rejecting most of them because they were not made properly.

The BMA said that trusts must show that they have "exhausted all other sources of staffing", by cancelling more planned care or offering higher paid overtime payments to staff.

In a letter to the chief executive of NHS England Amanda Prichard, sent on Wednesday evening, Professor Philip Banfield, chairman of the BMA council, said that the trusts were not sending evidence they had taken the steps

Some hospitals had applied for exemptions in December "before alternative solutions could be pursued", Professor Banfield wrote, adding that some consultants in departments requesting exemptions said they were safely staffed.

Read more: Why are junior doctors striking for six days, and how does it affect patients? Longest-ever NHS strikes explained

Read more: Hospital boss warns of six-day doctors strikes’ ‘huge impact’ on patients as he urges union and ministers to find a deal

He added that the change in approach was the "politicisation and weaponization of a safety critical process" to justify the government’s minimum service regulations, restricting the number of doctors able to join strikes.

Striking junior doctors also want a mechanism that would prevent any real-term future pay cuts against inflation and the cost of living.
Striking junior doctors also want a mechanism that would prevent any real-term future pay cuts against inflation and the cost of living. Picture: Alamy

However, NHS executives are insisting that the requests are being made out of concerns for patient safety during the winter months.

According to The Times, some of these come from A&E and maternity units.

One senior NHS leader told The Times: "With great respect to the leaders of the BMA junior doctors’ committee, I’ve been doing this a lot longer than they have.

"This week is rubbish. It’s always rubbish. It’s been rubbish since I was their age."

"These are requests that are being made by jobbing experienced medical directors in individual organisations.

"They’re not doing that lightly and they’re not doing it because they’ve been leant on by a politician."

In an agreement between the British Medical Association (BMA) and NHS, junior doctors can be asked to return to their jobs if there are patient safety concerns.
In an agreement between the British Medical Association (BMA) and NHS, junior doctors can be asked to return to their jobs if there are patient safety concerns. Picture: Alamy

Numerous hospitals are reporting lengthy waiting times in emergency departments.

The Queen Alexandra Hospital in Portsmouth, NHS Nottingham and Nottinghamshire integrated Care board declared critical incidents.

Today is the second day of the six-day strike - the longest in NHS history.

On the first day of the strike, over a dozen hospitals reported that emergency services were busy.

Other hospitals recorded "extreme heightened pressure" and “being exceptionally busy" and one hospital reported their A&E has a wait time of up to "11 hours".

The junior doctors want more money, and processes in place to keep pay rises coming in future.

They say they are striving to protect the future of the NHS, as overworked staff are suffering burnout and leaving to work in other countries.

They were given an 8.8 per cent pay rise in the summer and offered a further 3 per cent increase during recent negotiations near the end of 2023.

The BMA turned the increase down because they claimed it did not compensate for the real-term pay cut its members have endured since 2008.

The union is seeking "pay restoration" to 2008 levels, which it has estimated as the equivalent of a 35 per cent pay rise.

Striking junior doctors also want a mechanism that would prevent any real-term future pay cuts against inflation and the cost of living.

As well as this, they are demanding a reformed independent review body for doctors' and dentists' pay recommendations that they say would "safeguard recruitment and retention of junior doctors".

GP and pharmacy services will be unaffected by the walkouts, and people are being urged to use these services as they would normally.
GP and pharmacy services will be unaffected by the walkouts, and people are being urged to use these services as they would normally. Picture: Alamy

Professor Sir Stephen Powis, the NHS' medical director, said: "Six consecutive days of industrial action comes at one of our busiest periods - the action will not only have an enormous impact on planned care, but comes on top of a host of seasonal pressures such as COVID, flu, and staff absences due to sickness - all of which is impacting on how patients flow through hospitals.

"Our colleagues across the health service are doing their very best for patients every day, with extensive preparations in place, but there's no doubt they are starting 2024 on the back foot."

Dr Layla McCay, director of policy at the NHS Confederation, told LBC's Nick Ferrari that the strikes may present the health service's "toughest challenge yet".

Dr Layla McCay: NHS 'skating on thin ice' under current staffing crisis

She said: "In order to maintain patient safety as much as possible, and get people the care they need as quickly as possible, all the resources available will be concentrated in the most urgent and emergency care. And that means that lots of other care will need to be postponed."

If you are ill, you should still seek medical attention despite the strikes.

GP and pharmacy services will be unaffected by the walkouts, and people are being urged to use these services as they would normally.

Patients can also use 111 online, or call 111.

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