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Government Has Not Met Senior NHS Consultants For Five Months

(Alamy)

4 min read

The Government has not met consultants from the British Medical Association (BMA) for five months, research by the Labour party has highlighted, as doctors begin 48 hours of industrial action on Thursday.

Thousands of NHS doctors will go on strike on 24th and 25th August, with another round expected to take place in September. This will follow the two-day strike action which took place between 20th and 21st July.

But health ministers have not met with consultants who are members of the doctors' union since 27 March, junior doctors since 12th May or senior radiographers since 4th July, according to an answer to a written ministerial question to health minister Will Quince, highlighted by Labour. 

Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting claimed the Conservative Government has “given up any attempt” to prevent strike action in the health service.

“Patients don’t want excuses, they want action. If the Conservatives have given up on governing, they should step aside and let Labour clean up their mess,” he said.

“There were no national NHS strikes when Labour was last in office. We need a government that will treat NHS staff with respect, open its door for talks, and bring these strikes to an end.”

The BMA has rejected the Government’s six per cent pay offer, which it believed was “derisory”. It has called for NHS consultants to be remunerated with an above-inflation pay rise, after it claimed consultants’ take-home pay had fallen by 35 per cent in 13 years when considered in line with inflation. 

An estimated £1 million has paid for civil servants working on NHS pay negotiations.

Dr Vishal Sharma, BMA consultants committee chair, said it had been 150 days since Barclay met with the association – and claimed the Government was not serious about the “NHS, its workforce or patients”.

“Our message to the Prime Minister is that we are serious about protecting the consultant workforce and thereby the NHS and patients.

“We are striking today, and will do so again in September and October, but the Prime Minister has the power to avert any further action at all, by getting around the table and presenting us with a credible offer,” Dr Sharma added.

Strike action taken by the BMA is likely to put more pressure on the health service and exacerbate NHS waiting times.

NHS waiting lists have continued to soar over recent years, which were particularly exacerbated by the pandemic. Hospital waiting lists have grown from 3.7million in October 2017 to 7.42million in July 2023. The UK spends 11.3 per cent of its GDP on the health service, according to the ONS, the sixth highest out of any OECD nation.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak made cutting hospital waiting lists one of his five pledges in January. At the start of the year, he promised that “lists will fall and people will get the care they need more quickly”.

Last month Senior NHS executives warned that Sunak will not be able to reduce waiting lists this year. According to NHS England data, waiting lists have risen from 7.2million in January 2023 to 7.42million in July 2023.

The NHS Confederation has said if the Government cannot solve the ongoing dispute, Sunak’s promise may not be “achievable”.

Health Secretary Steve Barclay said he was disappointed with the further strike action, and blamed the industrial dispute for hampering the Government's ability to “cut NHS waiting lists”.

“I’m aware some consultants cut short their annual leave over the most recent periods of industrial action by the BMA Junior Doctors Committee and I am incredibly grateful to those staff who came forward to help protect patients and services," he said. 

“We have accepted the independent pay review body recommendations in full, giving consultants a 6 per cent pay rise which means average NHS earnings for consultants of £134,000, on top of a pension where generous tax changes mean a consultant can retire at age 65 with a pension each year for life of £78,000 a year. This pay award is final and I urge the BMA to call an end to strikes.”

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