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Doctors Warn Strike Talks Must Address "Full Pay Restoration" After Health Secretary Summit

Dr Paul Donaldson General Secretary of the Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association (HCSA), Philip Banfield chair of the British Medical Association (BMA) and Eddie Crouch Chair of the British Dental Association at the Department of Health in central London (Alamy)

3 min read

Doctors have warned Health Secretary Steve Barclay that averting strikes from junior doctors means addressing "pay restoration" to historical levels, as the NHS continues to tackle the winter crisis.

Doctors argue that their salaries have dropped by 26 per cent in real terms since 2008, and would like to see their pay brought back in line with these historical levels. 

Barclay met with representatives from the British Medical Association (BMA) and Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association (HCSA) on Thursday, and while one union head called the discussions “constructive”, they made clear that negotiations over the next six weeks while doctors are being balloted on strike action will be crucial to averting further walk outs in the stretched health service. 

Junior doctor members of the BMA in England are currently voting on whether to go ahead with strike action that could see them walk out for 72 hours in March. 

Following this morning's meeting, Professor Philip Banfield, chair of the BMA Council, told reporters that Barclay was a “consummate politician and in listening mode” during their hour-long discussion, and it was made clear that pay was key to the dispute, despite the fact that the topic was not expected to be formally on the agenda, and talks did “not get into the detail of money and numbers”. 

Speaking outside the Department of Health and Social Care, Prof Banfield said that doctors had "laid out our stall", and stood firm on their view that any further talks would need to address full pay restoration as well as broader issues facing the NHS workforce. 

“This was a meeting called by the Secretary of State, where ostensibly he wanted to talk about the Pay Review Body for next year,” he continued.

"However, he said that the Secretary of State “got a very clear message that that wasn't going to be enough, that he has to address the workforce crisis now, and that that workforce crisis has been made worse by the drop in pay for junior doctors.” 

The BMA ballot for strike action opened on Monday and is due to close in the middle of February. Banfield believes that time period should be used to remedy the dispute. 

“The negotiations, from our point of view, have to take place within this next six weeks because clearly it's an advantage to sort and remedy this situation and the decline of the health service as quickly as possible," he added. 

Following the meeting, the Department of Health said that Barclay "welcomed the constructive discussion and shared interest in making the health service better, with opportunities identified to look at reform measures to improve outcomes for patients and help staff."

The government already held a series of talks on Monday with unions engaged in industrial action, including health, transport and education sectors.

Earlier this week, PoliticsHome reported that the Treasury is unlikely to grant any additional money for pay rewards in strike negotiations, and instead any bumps in pay will need to come from pre-agreed department budgets. 

It is unclear whether Barclay and Chancellor Jeremy Hunt have any time scheduled to discuss pay deals, but earlier this week, Hunt said that ministers “don’t want to agree to a settlement that would further fuel inflation or be unaffordable”. 

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