Hospital doctors in England will on Thursday (today) stage the biggest walkout in the history of the UK’s state-funded National Health Service, prompting fears for patient safety.
The unprecedented five-day stoppage over pay and staffing is the latest in eight months of industrial action across the NHS, which is already reeling from a vast pandemic backlog.
Nurses, ambulance staff and other medical staff have all joined picket lines in recent months, adding to the pressure on patient appointments.
The industrial action by junior doctors — those below consultant level — is due to begin at 7:00 am (0600 GMT) and last until 7:00 am on Tuesday.
It comes against a background of walk-outs across the economy from train drivers to lawyers over the past year as the UK battles a crippling cost-of-living crisis.
Senior hospital doctors, known as consultants, in England, will also begin a 48-hour strike on July 20, with radiographers following suit from July 25.
The bitter row between junior doctors and the government has seen them call for their 2008-9 pay levels to be restored — something the government says would mean an average pay award of about 35 per cent.
The British Medical Association’s Junior Doctors Committee says medics have effectively had a 26 per cent pay cut in real terms in the last 15 years, as salaries have failed to keep pace with soaring inflation.
The government claims that backdating their pay to reflect inflation since 2008 is too costly and has instead offered an extra five per cent, as it battles to reduce inflation.
“Today marks the start of the longest single walkout by doctors in the NHS’s history, but this is still not a record that needs to go into the history books,” BMA leaders Robert Laurenson and Vivek Trivedi said ahead of the action.
“We can call this strike off today if the UK government will simply follow the example of the government in Scotland and drop their nonsensical precondition of not talking whilst strikes are announced and produce an offer which is credible to the doctors they are speaking with.”
Similar stoppages in June and April resulted in massive disruption with hundreds of thousands of hospital appointments and operations rescheduled.
“The complete inflexibility we see from the UK government today is baffling, frustrating, and ultimately destructive for everyone who wants waiting lists to go down and NHS staffing numbers to go up,” Laurenson and Trivedi added.
About seven million people were waiting for treatment in April — a record — with nearly three million waiting more than 18 months, according to the BMA.