Junior doctors strikes timed to 'target' Tory party conference - BMA representative reveals to LBC

1 September 2023, 07:49

BMA Junior doctors rep admits strikes are times to target Tory Party conference

EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

A BMA representative has revealed to LBC that junior doctor strikes are coordinated to target the Conservative Party conference.

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Junior doctors and consultants will hold a joint strike for the first time in the history of the health service in what has been described as a "serious escalation" in their row with the Government over pay.

The coordinated industrial action is set to take place in September and October, the British Medical Association (BMA) said.

Consultants had already announced plans to walk out for 48 hours from September 19, and will be joined by their junior colleagues on September 20.

Junior doctors will then continue their strike on September 21 and 22.

Both consultants and junior doctors will then strike together on October 2, 3 and 4, during the Conservative party’s annual conference in Manchester.

Read more: UK to be hotter than Portugal as late summer heatwave arrives with temperatures soaring to 27C

Read more: 'Patients are paying the price': Warning as junior doctors and consultants strike together for first time in NHS history

Doctors hold placards in support of fair pay at the British Medical Association (BMA) picket
Doctors hold placards in support of fair pay at the British Medical Association (BMA) picket. Picture: Alamy

When asked by LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast if the timing of the strikes "deliberately targeted the party conferences, specifically the Conservative conference?" the union rep admitted that was the case.

The BMA's Dr Tal Ellenbogen replied: "The Conservative Party are the ruling party, we would do this with any government in power."

"We have targeted trying to get the party, and this government to listen as they have ignored us for 150 days. Sunak cannot call an end to negotiations before he's ever stepped into the negotiation room."

This news left Nick unimpressed, as he finished the interview he told the junior doctor: "I think you can probably take from my tone I'm not hugely impressed with the news."

Earlier this week, it was revealed that the latest consultants strike - which took place on August 24-26 - impacted 45,827 inpatient and outpatient hospital appointments in England.

A further 1,302 cancellations in mental health, learning disability and community settings were also recorded, though this likely includes a small amount of double-counting, NHS England said.

The Junior Doctors rep hit out at Rishi Sunak
The Junior Doctors rep hit out at Rishi Sunak. Picture: Alamy/LBC

Staff will work on a "Christmas day cover" basis for both spells of industrial action, meaning emergency care will continue to be provided.

It comes after junior doctors voted in favour to continuing strike action, with the BMA's mandate on industrial action renewed for another six months.

The union has now told Prime Minister Rishi Sunak he has "nowhere to hide".

Junior doctor committee co-chairmen Dr Rob Laurenson and Dr Vivek Trivedi said: "Today, junior doctors across England are sending a single message, loud and clear to the Government: we are not going anywhere.

"We are prepared to continue with our industrial action, but we don't have to - the Prime Minister has the power to halt any further action by making us a credible offer that we can put to our members. Refusing to negotiate with us and with our consultant colleagues is not the way ahead.

"Rishi Sunak now has nowhere to hide. There can be no more delaying, no more wasting time with impositions of pay deals, no more declarations that strikes must end before even stepping in the room with us.

"If he does not come to the table with a credible offer on pay, he will face another six months of strike action. And another six months after, and after that, if he continues to ignore us. He knows the stakes, he knows our ask and now he knows our resolve."

Junior doctors from the Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association (HCSA) - the hospital doctors' union - will also be striking across the same six days.

Dr Karim Salem, HCSA junior doctors committee co-chair, said: "Steve Barclay and Rishi Sunak think they can just sit on their hands and wait for junior doctors to give in. But the crisis in our NHS is not going away.

"Years of under-investment in staff has pushed waiting lists to an all-time high. We know that once again we will be left to try and cope as winter pressures mount. That's why junior doctors are showing this incredible resolve in the face of such disdain for our health service and our profession.

"It may try to hide it, but the Government knows this situation is untenable. Junior doctors, senior doctors, trust leaders and patients are all telling them. Our message is this: it's not too late to do something about it."

The union's president, Dr Naru Narayanan, said: "The Government has tried burying its head in the sand. It has tried making unilateral declarations.

"It hasn't tried the one thing that will actually resolve this dispute: good-faith negotiation."

In July, the Government said junior doctors would get pay rises of 6%, along with an additional consolidated £1,250 increase, and hospital consultants will also receive 6%.

Health Secretary Steve Barclay has said there will be "no more negotiations on pay".

Mr Barclay described the union's latest announcement as "extremely disappointing" adding: "I know it will weigh heavily on the minds of their NHS colleagues and patients - both of whom are shouldering the brunt of the BMA's relentless and now co-ordinated strike action.

"My door is always open to discuss how we can work together with NHS staff to improve their working lives, but this pay award is final so I urge the BMA to call an end to this callous and calculated disruption."

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said Mr Sunak and Mr Barclay should negotiate with medics to end the pay dispute.

He said: "The failure of the Prime Minister and his health secretary to sit down and talk to doctors has now led to the most severe strike action yet.

"The risk to patients is intolerable and the blame for cancelled appointments, delayed operations and rising waiting lists lies firmly at the door of 10 Downing Street.

"There is no excuse for the Prime Minister failing to sit down with NHS doctors to try to bring an end to these strikes.

"The NHS needs all hands on deck right now. Rishi Sunak cannot continue to sit this out."

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Industrial action in the NHS has been ongoing since December 2022, with the number of inpatient and outpatient appointments cancelled now standing at 885,154.

If the community and mental health figures are included, the total rises to more than 940,000 - though this will not reflect the overall number of actual cancellations, due to some duplication of data.

Sir Julian Hartley, chief executive at NHS Providers said co-ordinated action is a "serious escalation in the doctors' industrial dispute".

He added: "We now face the grim prospect of another six months of walkouts from junior doctors, which will pile even more pressure on the NHS this winter, causing yet more disruption for patients.

"This is going to be an unprecedented challenge for the health service.

"Trust leaders understand doctors' reasons for striking, but patients are paying the price. Nearly one million appointments have already been pushed back since industrial action started in December.

"This number grows with every strike, further delaying care and jeopardising vital work to bear down on backlogs, including the government's key pledge to cut the waiting list.

"Staff morale - already at a low - will likely now take another big hit. Industrial action is also putting a huge strain on stretched NHS budgets, costing an estimated £1 billion so far through lost income and hiring expensive cover.

"Today's vote must be a wake-up call for both sides of the dispute to sit down together, talk and agree on a resolution."