'What on earth are they doing?!': Chancellor slams junior doctors' strike before election as 'political football'

30 May 2024, 08:25

Health Secretary questions the timing of the junior doctors strike

EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has slammed a planned junior doctors' strike just days before the election accusing them of using the NHS as a 'political football.'

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Speaking to LBC’s Nick Ferrari at Breakfast an incredulous Jeremy Hunt asked “what on Earth” junior doctors were doing going on strike in the week before a General Election.

"What on Earth are they doing? Choosing to go on strike in the week before a General Election” Mr Hunt said.

A full walkout by junior doctors will start at 7am on June 27 and will end at 7am on July 2 - just two days before the General Election.

He added just one week later they would be able to “sit down and negotiate” with a new government, “whether Conservative or Labour.”

“Why would they go on strike and the week before a General Election if it wasn't political,” Mr Hunt said.

The Chancellor warned the strikes would only damage the NHS.

“I'm afraid it's a political decision and it's only going to be damaging for the NHS,” he told LBC.

Slamming the actions of the striking doctors, Mr Hunt said it was wrong to treat the health service like a political football.

“Why are they causing all this misery if it isn't because they're trying to make a political point ahead of a general election? And personally, I think that is just the wrong thing to do to treat the NHS as a political football.”

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Rishi Sunak has 'abdicated his responsibility to negotiate' a pay deal, says BMA representative

Yesterday, Health Sercetary, Victoria Atkins, suggested the strikes have been timed cynically, as was the announcement to coincide with Sir Keir Starmer's NHS announcements.

Ms Atkins told LBC's Ben Kentish: "Is it a coincidence that they have announced this on the day that Labour has their own announcements about health, and my opposite number has apparently committed himself to the 35pc pay demand that the Junior Doctors committee is making?

"The Junior Doctors committee knew full well that Cabinet Office guidance is clear once there is an election underway any government cannot pursue the policies or have the freedom they would outside an election campaign."

The Chancellor was speaking to LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast
The Chancellor was speaking to LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast. Picture: Alamy

Rishi Sunak said the timing of the announcement by junior doctors to stage a strike during the election campaign, on the same day as Labour pledged to cut NHS waiting lists, "makes it look incredibly political".

The Prime Minister was asked whether the planned walkout is an indictment of his time in office, as he took questions from the media during a campaign visit to Devon.

Mr Sunak said: "Today's action by the junior doctors, on the same day as the Labour Party are having a health day, does slightly ponder the question as to whether this is politically motivated.

"It's hard to escape that conclusion, given the timing and to call a strike in an election campaign, especially as we found a constructive resolution with the remainder of the NHS workforce.

"We started with a million NHS workers under the Agenda for Change deal, including physiotherapist and many others. And most recently, we reached an agreement with the consultant doctors. So it's just the junior doctors that have failed to find a resolution with the Government, and that's in spite of them already being offered a pay deal that is worth on average a 10% increase, a 10% increase already, and we were prepared to keep talking."

The Prime Minister went on to point out that Labour "won't condemn the strikes".

Junior doctors in England will strike from June 27 to July 2 over their long-running dispute over pay.
Junior doctors in England will strike from June 27 to July 2 over their long-running dispute over pay. Picture: Alamy

After the July 4 election was called last week, the British Medical Association (BMA) gave the Government “a final opportunity to make an offer and avoid strikes” but “this opportunity has not been taken up”.

A junior doctors committee co-chairs Dr Robert Laurenson and Dr Vivek Trivedi said: “We made clear to the Government that we would strike unless discussions ended in a credible pay offer.

"For more than 18 months we have been asking Rishi Sunak to put forward proposals to restore the pay junior doctors have lost over the past 15 years – equal to more than a quarter in real terms.

“When we entered mediation with Government this month we did so under the impression that we had a functioning government that would soon be making an offer. Clearly no offer is now forthcoming. Junior doctors are fed up and out of patience.

“Even at this late stage Mr Sunak has the opportunity to show that he cares about the NHS and its workers. It is finally time for him to make a concrete commitment to restore doctors’ pay. If during this campaign he makes such a public commitment that is acceptable to the BMA’s junior doctors committee, then no strikes need go ahead."