Junior doctors in Scotland could walk out for three days over pay if members of the British Medical Association (BMA) vote for strike action.
The union’s ballot on industrial action will be open from March 29 until May 5 and centres around a formal dispute with the Scottish Government over pay.
BMA Scotland’s junior doctor committee says junior doctors’ pay has been eroded over 15 years, earning 23.5% less than if they were doing the same job in 2008.
An increase of 4.5% was rejected, with junior doctors claiming the offer was a real-terms pay cut.
Should the strike action be backed by BMA members, the union said junior doctors will “withdraw labour” for 72 hours and only offer emergency care during the strikes.
It said NHS boards will be forced to arrange emergency cover to ensure patient safety.
The threatened action would follow similar strikes taking place south of the border.
Dr Chris Smith, chair of the BMA’s Scottish junior doctor committee, urged the Scottish Government to enter negotiations in order to avert the need for strike action.
It is estimated by the BMA that junior doctors make up 44% of doctors in the NHS in Scotland – but Dr Smith warned “we are on our knees” amid rising pressures and staff shortages.
Many, he said, are leaving the profession or are opting to practice medicine abroad due to the rates of pay.
He said: “As junior doctors, we see every day the damaging impact our crumbling Scottish NHS has on patients and staff. The seriousness of the situation – caused not least by short staffing – should be crystal clear to anyone with even a passing interest in our NHS.
“This simply can’t go on. We need urgent investment in our junior doctor workforce, who are the senior doctors of the future – and to finally value them properly again.
“Yet despite the obvious advantages of that, the Cabinet secretary for health (Humza Yousaf) – who continues to talk up the fact that there have been no strikes in NHS Scotland whilst being fully aware of our plans – has singularly failed to even commit to start the meaningful negotiations that we believe, with goodwill on all sides, can lead to a solution.”
He said that junior doctors “understand the seriousness” of strikes, but feel they have been left “with no other choice”.
He added: “By making this announcement today, we are giving the Scottish Government the chance both to understand how serious we are, and to act to prevent things reaching that stage – or if not, at least make sure it and NHS boards have time to plan effectively for the implications of the action, which we understand and accept will be wide-ranging and disruptive.
“We will not take this action lightly. Indeed, if we are forced to withdraw our labour, it will be with huge regret – and it should be absolutely clear that the fault lies with those who aren’t even prepared to engage meaningfully on our asks.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Junior doctors are vital to NHS Scotland. The Health Secretary offered to meet with the BMA to discuss their concerns around pay and arrangements at the end of February. We’ve been clear their demands for an above retail price index pay increase, plus an additional ask of 23.5% – meaning a pay raise of more than 35% – are simply unaffordable.
“In Scotland junior doctors have already been awarded a 4.5% pay uplift for 2022/23 recommended by the independent Doctors and Dentist Pay Review Body and we are disappointed this ballot will go ahead as industrial action would be in no one’s interests.
“We have written to the independent Doctors and Dentist Review Bodies and asked them to consider a separate and specific recommendation for junior doctor pay in 2023, and BMA Scotland have written to me to confirm they remain within the DDRB process. We been very open about the real fiscal challenges we face, have explored all options for 2022/23 and there’s no additional money for pay without cutting funding to the NHS and other public services.”