Doctors and consultants are holding their first-ever joint strikes in September and October after a “serious escalation” in their row with the Government over pay.
Staff will work on a “Christmas Day cover” for several days to provide emergency care but little beyond — which could affect routine appointments and hit Rishi Sunak’s promise to reduce waiting times.
Here’s everything you need to know about the NHS joint strike.
When will senior hospital doctors walk out?
Consultants are striking today and tomorrow (September 19 and 20) as well as on October 2, 3, and 4.
During this week’s strike and in next month’s walkouts, consultants will provide so-called “Christmas Day cover”, which includes emergency care and limited routine work. Christmas-like cover means the action will be “safe and effective”, the British Medical Association (BMA) said.
The BMA admitted, however, that while emergency care will still be provided, elective or non-emergency work will be cancelled.
Why are consultants striking?
The Government recently announced a six per cent wage increase for NHS medical professionals.
But the BMA claimed that the pay award amounted to “another real-terms pay cut” and stated that the below-inflation pay increase for consultants was “nothing short of insulting” and would actually increase compensation by less than six per cent once “all elements of pay were taken into consideration”.
The six per cent pay increase was in line with pay review body recommendations but is much less than what physicians are asking for.
While consultant compensation has decreased by 27 per cent since 2008, when the Retail Price Index (RPI) is taken into account, the BMA estimates that the reduction is actually 35 per cent after accounting for adjustments to tax and pension contributions.
By raising the tax-free threshold for pension contributions, the Government claimed to have acted on the BMA’s call for pension reform.
Contrary to junior doctors at the beginning of their strikes, consultants are not requesting a one-time complete salary restoration. Instead, they would like the Government to at least begin providing salary increases that keep up with inflation.
What do NHS consultants do?
Consultants are specialists who have completed full medical training in a particular area of medicine.
After graduating from medical school, it takes a doctor between six and eight years to become a consultant.
They have clinical responsibilities as well as administrative responsibilities. Consultants also manage junior doctors.
How much do NHS consultants earn?
The Department of Health and Social Care said consultants’ average earnings are about £128,000, following a 4.5 per cent rise in the last financial year.
It also said that consultants will “benefit from generous changes to pension taxation announced at budget”, and said the proposed strikes were “disappointing”.
Last week, the Government announced the six per cent pay rise for NHS medics. The rise is in line with pay review body recommendations, but far below what doctors are asking for.
Dr Vishal Sharma, the BMA consultants’ committee chair, said the offer was insulting, adding: “Consultants have always been clear that industrial action is a last resort but, in the face of a government intent on devaluing consultants’ expertise and their lack of regard for the impact this is having on the NHS, we have been left with no choice. We’ve had our pay cut year after year, put our lives on the line during a pandemic, and now are managing a record backlog of care.
“The prime minister says cutting these waiting lists is a priority but then undermines his own policy by showing he doesn’t value those charged with delivering it. Cutting pay [in real terms] once again shows the Government’s complete disregard for the profession.”
He added: “This ‘final offer’ and flat refusal to engage in further talks has left us with no option but to continue our action… The future of the NHS depends on there being consultants within it, but attacks on their pay will drive them away — from the health service and from the country — with devastating consequences.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said the pay rise for consultants was “fair and reasonable” and that it had also increased their tax-free pensions savings to £60,000 a year.
“We’ve made it clear this pay award is not up for negotiation and it’s disappointing the BMA are continuing with disruptive industrial action,” they said. “We urge consultants in dispute with the Government to end their strikes immediately.”