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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Daniel Keane

We need to get around the table, says health minister as junior doctors announce 72-hour strike

The Government and the British Medical Association (BMA) need to “get back around the table” for negotiations on pay, a minister hsa said, as junior doctors announced plans for a 72-hour walkout in March.

Health minister Maria Caulfield said that strike action by BMA members “would not resolve” a bitter pay dispute as junior medics told of feeling “undervalued and overworked”.

Almost 37,000 votes were cast in the BMA’s ballot and 98 per cent of those were cast in favour of strike action, meaning this was the largest ever turnout for a ballot of doctors by the union. Nurses, paramedics and physiotherapists have already staged industrial action and further walkouts will take place in the coming weeks.

Speaking to BBC Breakfast, Ms Caulfield claimed that the BMA’s demand of a 26 per cent pay rise was “unrealistic” and “not achievable” after the Government was criticised for failing to open negotiations with the union.

“Striking with those demands on the table is unfair on patients. Let’s get around the table, let’s talk about future pay settlements and get this resolved, but striking and particularly not being able to guarantee cover for A&E, and emergency and ITU cover is very, very difficult and will put patients at risk.”

BMA junior doctors committee co-chairs Dr Robert Laurenson and Dr Vivek Trivedi claimed the vote showed the “strength of feeling” among medics, saying they would not settle for an “insulting” two per cent pay rise.

Maria Vittoria Capanna, a junior doctor and BMA member, told the Standard that many in the profession felt “undervalued and overworked”.

“You feel like you’re just a number and fulfilling a service. The general slow erosion of what it means to be a doctor and how you’re valued in your workplace has made people feel so disillusioned.”

NHS leaders have pleaded with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Government to negotiate with unions on pay as the health service faces the prospect of widespread disruption.

Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, said trust leaders were “deeply concerned” about the impact of the junior doctors’ strike.

More than 140,000 appointments have already been postponed due to industrial action and this will rise “significantly”, she warned.

“An urgent resolution is needed if we are to prevent harm to patients and the NHS.”

Health Secretary Mr Barclay said: “We hugely value the work of junior doctors and it is deeply disappointing some union members have voted for strike action.

“As part of a multi-year deal we agreed with the BMA, junior doctors’ pay has increased by a cumulative 8.2 per cent since 2019/20. We also introduced a higher pay band for the most experienced staff and increased rates for night shifts.”

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