Junior doctors cite poor conditions and pay cuts for continued strikes

Junior doctors cite poor conditions and pay cuts for continued strikes
Courtesy: BMA

Junior doctors in England continue into their fourth day of industrial action on Saturday in the longest strike in the National Health Service’s history. Close to half of working doctors in England are striking due to a protracted disagreement with ministers over pay and conditions, this is the 9th iteration of industrial action since March 2023.

 

Both major unions, the BMA and HCSA, are seeking “full pay restoration” to 2008/09 wage levels. Current real term salary values are 26% lower than those of junior doctors over a decade ago, and therefore, members are asking for a 35% (calculated in early 2023 when negotiations initially began) pay rise to cover this deficit. BMA and HCSA doctors in December overwhelmingly (96% of HCSA members) voted to continue industrial action into 2024 as ministers only offered a pay rise averaging 3% from January. Dr Vivek Trivedi, a junior doctor union leader at the BMA, has stated that ministers must come to the table with a credible offer if they wish to prevent further strikes.

 

The BMA also published a report in February 2023 indicating dire health and wellbeing statistics of junior doctors in relation to working at the NHS. More than three quarters, 78%, of surveyed junior doctors have said that they have felt unwell as a result of work-related stress, 81% stated that their health and wellbeing worsened since December 2021 (post-COVID). A concerning 72% of junior doctors surveyed say that they ‘always or frequently’ works in understaffed rotas, and worryingly, 51% described their desire to work in the NHS in the next year as ‘low’ or ‘very low’, with many suggesting that they are looking for better work abroad. These statistics paint a worrying picture not just for the health and wellbeing of junior doctors, but for the long-term viability of the NHS. 

 

In response to fall in salary value and poor working conditions, the BMA, before the latest action, laid out three clear demands

 

  1. Achieve full pay restoration to reverse the steep decline in pay faced by junior doctors since 2008/09 
  2. Agree on a mechanism with the Government to prevent any future declines against the cost of living and inflation 
  3. Reform the DDRB (Doctors’ and Dentists’ Review Body) process so pay increases can be recommended independently and fairly to safeguard the recruitment and retention of junior doctors.

 

In interviews with those on the picket lines, junior doctors echoed concerns established in early 2023. Poh Wang, a junior doctor on strike in March last year, explained that “he and his colleagues have been pushed to the brink after below-inflation pay rises collided with the surging costs of living” and left him “questioning how he can ever pay of his student debt”. Further indicating that he and his colleagues are “overworked, underpaid, and burdened with student loan debt”. Similarly, those on the picket lines on Thursday explained that they are concerned for their and the NHS’ welfare, also suggesting that the NHS is in need of “more doctors who are properly trained” and this is only likely if ministers provide better conditions and incentives to work for the service. 

 

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak described that he was “disappointed” with the decision to strike. A record year for junior doctor strikes will likely have huge political ramifications for Sunak and his cabinet as a flagship pledge was to reduce NHS wait lists, which still increased throughout 2023, likely, these strikes will likely worsen them. Health Secretary, Victoria Atkinson, has also said that junior doctors had to call off their strike before she was willing to get back to the negotiation table.