Five-day junior doctor strike will cost the NHS £125 million and could hit waiting list recovery, NHS says

13 July 2023, 08:06

NHS England has told LBC the cost of staffing gaps caused by junior doctors walking out over the next five days will be around £125 million.
NHS England has told LBC the cost of staffing gaps caused by junior doctors walking out over the next five days will be around £125 million. Picture: Alamy

By Fraser Knight.

The longest-ever walkout by junior doctors in England is set to cost the health service £125 million in staffing costs as agency workers are drafted in to fill gaps.

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The strike, which lasts from Thursday through to Tuesday morning, is part of an ongoing dispute between the British Medical Association (BMA) and ministers.

The union is calling for a 35% pay rise, after years of below-inflation increases. An independent pay review has reportedly recommended that the government offer junior doctors a salary boost of 6% or more.

But now the cost of the strike action has been revealed, with the money set to come out of a pot of cash set aside to help tackle the NHS waiting list.

The health service's assessment reads: "It is estimated that the cost of providing staff cover for each junior doctor strike day to the NHS could be in the region of £25 million per day. This means some of the money provided to trusts as part of the Elective Recovery Fund to pay for elective treatment is having to be made available to spend on the effects of strike action instead."

Read more: ‘Unchartered territory for NHS’: July set for seven days of strikes from senior and junior doctors in NHS chaos

Read more: 'No decisions have been made on public sector pay', Rishi Sunak insists, as Cabinet split grows

Junior doctors are locked in a dispute with the government over pay
Junior doctors are locked in a dispute with the government over pay. Picture: Getty

Former Conservative health minister Lord James Bethell told LBC he expects that cost will be much higher still.

"It’s very disappointing to hear what a hard hit it’s going to have on very scarce funds but the real impact on the NHS will be a lot more than that. There’s all the disruption created in the system which costs a huge amount to put back in place.

"If you have thousands and thousands of missed appointments, you have to book them all back in at a later date, quite often in out of hours and will incur quite substantial costs and the people involved will be more ill than they would’ve been with prompt treatment.

"Ministers have put huge funds and focus on tackling waiting lists and many of those waiting lists were beginning to come down before the strikes began. I think there was a good chance they might have hit those targets if it weren’t for this industrial action."

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Junior doctors are paid between £30,000 and £58,000 a year, depending on their experience.

Consultants, who are also walking out for two days after the junior doctor strike, can earn up to £120,000 a year.

Research also found that some NHS trusts are paying hundreds of pounds per hour for agency staff to fill gaps.

Freedom of Information requests revealed one in three NHS trusts in England forked out more than £3,000 for a single doctor’s shift last year.

The BMA has said its strike action comes with three demands: to ‘reverse the steep decline’ in pay faced by junior doctors since 2008; to agree to avoid any future declines against the rising cost of living; and to reform the pay review body that recommends pay increase amounts to the government.

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Author, comedian and former junior doctor Adam Kay told MPs on Wednesday: "Clearly there are more efficient ways of converting A-levels into cash than via clinical medicine – that’s not why people go in – but when I left medicine in 2010, I was earning a quarter more in real-terms than equivalent staff are earning today.

"It is not unreasonable to want equivalent to back then it feels like such a small demand. And what’s the Plan B? Because at the moment everyone is leaving."

But the health secretary said the BMA’s demands are unaffordable.

Steve Barclay said: "This five-day walkout by junior doctors will have an impact on thousands of patients, put patient safety at risk and hamper efforts to cut NHS waiting lists.

"We were in discussions about pay and a range of other measures to improve the working lives of junior doctors until their representatives collapsed the negotiations by announcing further strikes. A pay demand of 35% or more is unreasonable and risks fuelling inflation, which makes everyone poorer.

"If the BMA shows willingness to move significantly from their current pay demands and cancels these damaging and disruptive strikes, we can get around the table to find a fair deal to resolve this dispute."

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