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Can UK doctors strike and has it happened before? It's ‘inevitable’, says new BMA chair

The health service has been under tremendous pressure over the past two years due to the Covid pandemic, and according to the British Medical Association's (BMA) new leader, a strike is very likely.

In his first interview since taking over as the BMA's chair of council, Prof Philip Banfield has warned that a doctors strike for better pay is "almost inevitable."

Members of the doctors' union voted recently to seek a 30% increase in their pay over the next five years, amounting to a "full pay restoration " for the cuts they've suffered to their income since 2008.

Prof Banfield said: "Doctors are angry, frustrated and feeling undervalued. There is very, very serious discontent [about pay]. After 14 years are doctors worth 30% less? No. I mean, if anything they are worth 30% more," adding, "If you don’t have doctors, you don’t have the NHS."

Banfield predicts the strikes are likely to happen next spring. But have doctors gone on strike before and is it legal for them to do so?

Can UK doctors go on strike?

UK doctors are legally allowed to go on strike (Getty Images)

Doctors in the UK are legally allowed to go on strike. However, professionals in other core emergency services like police and armed forces have raised questions on whether this should be allowed.

Those against striking argue about the impact it has on health services and the potential for it to cause harm to patients, such as routine operations and appointments being pushed back.

The concerns are that strikes would lead to more instances of patients not having confidence in the health service and higher incidences of people not receiving the level of care they deserve.

Meanwhile, those who advocate for striking say that it's one of the most effective ways to bring change.

Have NHS doctors gone on strike before?

Junior doctors staged a walkout over a proposal from Jeremy Hunt in 2016 (SWNS)

Junior doctors previously staged a series of walkouts over pay in 2015-16, protesting against a new contract imposed by then health secretary Jeremy Hunt.

The BMA announced the five-day strikes between 12 to 16 September over Hunt's proposed contract intended to be imposed on junior doctors – all those below the level of consultant.

Though there were talks to resolve the dispute, particularly on issues of Saturday pay and automatic pay rises for part-time workers, the medics felt what was being offered was unreasonable and went on to strike.

Speaking of the possibility of another similar strike in the near future, Banfield said that medics would explore every other solution before staging any walkouts.

He said: "No one wants to go on strike. We will be trying to avoid that. But that is not at all costs. Because there is no sellout to be had here."

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