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The Independent UK
The Independent UK
Archie Mitchell

Junior doctors defend ‘plonker’ union leader for being on holiday during strike

PA Wire

Striking junior doctors have defended a key figure behind the four-day walkout after it emerged he is on holiday this week.

As the NHS faces what has been described as “the most disruptive” industrial action in its history, Dr Robert Laurenson, co-chairman of the British Medical Association’s junior doctor committee, is attending a family friend’s wedding.

The 28-year-old has booked the time off as annual leave, meaning he will continue being paid while striking colleagues who do not show up for work will lose out. Former Tory health minister Lord Bethell described Dr Laurenson as a “plonker”.

And Rishi Sunak said he was “surprised to read” that Dr Laurenson was on holiday during the strikes.

But despite criticism of the doctor, colleagues rushed to his defence and insisted he is “fulfilling a long-standing commitment”.

A BMA spokeswoman said: “We aren’t going to disclose further personal information but he remains actively involved in the planning of the dispute.”

A walkout by junior doctors began at 7am on Tuesday and will continue until Saturday morning.

It has been estimated that some 350,000 appointments and operations have been rescheduled as a result of the action as senior doctors and other medics who are not on strike have been diverted to cover services such as A&E and maternity care.

The strikes centre around a pay row between the BMA and government, with the union claiming junior doctors in England have seen a 26 per cent real-term pay cut since 2008-09 because pay rises have been below inflation.

The union has asked for a full pay restoration that the government said would amount to a 35 per cent pay rise.

Rishi Sunak has urged junior doctors to call off the strike and withdraw the “unreasonable” pay demand, insisting it is “completely out of step” with other public sector pay settlements.

Lord Bethell told The Independent: “I am disappointed because I admire our junior doctors as the leadership cadre of our health system who quite reasonably look forward to gold-plated pensions, job security and top-tier remuneration.

“The public has a right to expect a greater sense of responsibility than this sort of deliberately-disruptive zero-derogation, four-day, Bank Holiday strike, and an uncompromising, studs-first attitude to negotiations.”

Tory MP Julian Knight said Dr Laurenson’s decision to “swan off” on holiday was “adding insult to injury”. He told The Independent: “The junior doctors’ strike is deeply irresponsible and their demands are totally unreasonable. Having orchestrated this disaster for patients and our NHS, for the union leader to then swan off in this manner is adding insult to injury.”

And Conservative Craig Mackinlay told The Independent that Dr Laurenson’s holiday made it “obvious” the strikes are “more about playing politics than any serious attempt to find a solution to grievances”.

Dr Laurenson was present at pay talks with health secretary Steve Barclay last month which broke down within half an hour.

Dr Vivek Trivedi, Dr Laurenson’s co-chairman on the junior doctor’s committee, on Tuesday threatened further strikes if the government does not come to the table in an “honest and meaningful way”.

“Strikes are by nature designed to be disruptive, to put pressure on the government to come to the table to ultimately work towards an end to this dispute,” he said.

“Where we go forward is, of course, reserving the right for further industrial action if the government doesn’t negotiate with us, but that’s all we want them to do.

“We just want them to come to the table in an honest and meaningful way. But of course, if they don’t, then we would reserve the right for further industrial action.”

He added: “The government has not even tried to meet us anywhere in the middle, it hasn’t given us a counter-offer at all.

“We’ve extended our olive branch many times and Mr Barclay is continuing to kick the can down the road, which is why we need to see some goodwill from him.”

Mr Sunak said he wanted to find a “reasonable compromise” to end the dispute. The PM said: “What I am focused on is making sure we get the right outcome for patients and taxpayers.

“I think the government has got a track record in showing that it can get round the table and find reasonable compromise and a way through these difficult situations, as we’ve already done with several other health unions that represent over a million NHS workers including nurses and paramedics.”

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