Senior Tory Tells Rishi Sunak To Take “Leap Of Faith” And Offer Doctors New Pay Deal
The BMA has finished its four-day walkout but is no closer to a deal on pay from the government (Alamy)
Tory chair of the health select committee Steve Brine wants Rishi Sunak to take “a leap of faith” and offer a new pay deal to doctors, to end the long-running industrial action before further strikes are announced.
Brine, a former health minister told PoliticsHome podcast The Rundown that he sees this time following historic strikes by doctors last week as a “a window of opportunity” for government to resume talks with the British Medical Association (BMA) to prevent further walkouts.
So far the government and the union have failed to agree on a new settlement, with junior doctors calling for a salary increase of up to 35 per cent, which they say will make up for a decade of wage depression in light of inflation. Health Secretary Steve Barclay has dismissed this as unrealistic, and talks have broken down between the two sides, which led to a four-day walkout by the BMA’s members last week.
Doctors currently have no further industrial action planned – which Brine said presents an opportunity for the Prime Minister to “take the moral high ground” by inviting the BMA to resume negotiations.
He believes the government is "in a bad place” in the negotiations and “what we need is for somebody to take a leap of faith, and to put themselves out there and take a chance, because jaw-jaw is always better than war-war”.
He said “there is a window here” without strike dates which can be "held as a gun to their head”, which gives the “little bit of grace” that might make it possible for a new deal to be thrashed out.
Brine also warned that if a deal is not struck and the BMA does call for more strikes, potentially in co-ordination with nurses, then “the NHS will be on its knees”.
The ex-minister said he had told Sunak he was “getting a reputation as a fixer” when he grilled him at the liaison committee last month, and added that "ultimately it is down to him and the Chancellor” to come up with a new financial settlement.
But he warned there is a “little bit of afters” from 2016 and the previous strike by junior doctors, when he worked for the then-health secretary Jeremy Hunt, now the Chancellor.
“There is no question that there was a quite radical cell within the BMA junior doctors committee back in 2016," he continued.
“That has spread across that trade union, and you just have to listen to some of the tone that you hear from from BMA interviews, they are clearly not huge fans of Jeremy.
“But they all have to put that to one side because they do have a Hippocratic oath to do no harm, and ministers have this promise to scale the waiting list. It is in everybody's interests to resolve this.”
Appearing alongside him Daisy Cooper, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, said to the government “now is the time to step up” with no further the BMA strikes planned.
“At the moment the way I see it is that right now, as of today, it is incumbent on the government to say ‘yes, okay, we're going to come to the table, we're going to accept third party involvement’, the government's been very clear about the fact that it doesn't want to engage with that opening offer from the BMA, but the government needs to put a different offer on the table,” she said.
“And then you define that middle point, and this is basically how negotiations work. It's really not that complicated.
“Somebody says he wants something very big, the other person that he wants it to be very low, and then you find somewhere in the middle. I mean, that's how it works, and you can't get to that point unless you get round the table.”
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