Junior doctors timed strikes days before election to coincide with Labour's NHS announcement, Health Sec suggests

29 May 2024, 23:49 | Updated: 30 May 2024, 00:33

Health Secretary questions the timing of the junior doctors strike

Kieran Kelly

By Kieran Kelly

Junior doctors announced new strike dates days before the General Election to coincide with Labour's announcements on the NHS, the Health Secretary has suggested to LBC.

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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.

The Health Sercetary, Victoria Atkins, has suggested the strikes have been timed cynically, as was today's 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."

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Wes Streeting, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, said:“This is confirmation that the chaos in the NHS will just continue under the Conservatives.

“Rishi Sunak refuses to negotiate with NHS junior doctors because he would rather blame them for his own failures.

“If the Conservatives are given another five years, the crisis will get worse and waiting lists will hit 10 million.

“There were no national strikes in the NHS during 13 years of the last Labour government. The next Labour government will negotiate with junior doctors to bring these strikes to an end.”

Britain's Health Secretary Victoria Atkins
Britain's Health Secretary Victoria Atkins. Picture: Getty

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”.

BMA 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."

Junior Doctors on strike outside the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton in March 2023.
Junior Doctors on strike outside the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton in March 2023. Picture: Alamy

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The strike will come as a significant blow to Mr Sunak and will conclude just two days before the election.

Just two weeks ago the Government and the BMA announced that they had entered mediated talks to try and prevent further walkouts.

The walkout at the end of June will be the 11th strike by junior doctors in the current dispute.

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

The last strike by junior doctors, from February 24 to 28 this year, led to 91,048 appointments, operations and procedures being postponed.

Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive at NHS Providers, said: “This announcement marks a worrying escalation in the long dispute between the Government and junior doctors. This strike will inevitably hit patients hard.

“Resolving the industrial dispute must now be a top priority. Not doing so will come at too high a price for patients and the NHS itself.

“Nearly 1.5 million appointments have been delayed since industrial action began, with strikes having now cost the NHS an estimated £3 billion.

“We cannot go on like this. Politicians and unions must urgently find a way to resolve all disputes for the sake of patients, staff and the NHS.”

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