Junior doctors’ leaders have made a fresh call for talks with the Government to avert a four-day strike next week in a bitter dispute over pay.
The British Medical Association (BMA) said Health Secretary Steve Barclay has had more than 24 hours, and over six months overall, to put a credible offer on the table which could see strike action next week suspended.
The doctors’ union said it had received a letter from the minister on Wednesday saying he was serious about “rapidly settling this dispute”.
The BMA responded saying a credible offer, one that indicates the Health Secretary “really is serious” about pay restoration and willing to negotiate to resolve 15 years of “pay erosion”, could stop the strikes which are due to start on Tuesday.
“We say to him, ‘Put an offer on the table today, a credible one that truly demonstrates you are serious about addressing junior doctors losing more than 26% of their pay in real terms. An offer which can form the basis of negotiation and lead to the suspension of next week’s action’.
“It is not too late to avert four days of strike action, but the onus is on Mr Barclay to do more than write letters and talk about a desire to ‘rapidly’ end this dispute.
“So far that offer is not forthcoming; the clock is ticking, Mr Barclay. We are ready to get round the table, so make a credible offer to start negotiations and stop next week’s strikes.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Four days of strikes by junior doctors will risk patient safety and cause further disruption and postponed treatments.
“The BMA’s demand for a 35% pay rise is unreasonable and unaffordable. We urge them to come to the table with a realistic approach so we can find a way forward, as we have done with other health unions, which balances fairly rewarding junior doctors for their hard work with meeting the Government’s ambition to halve inflation.
“We are working with NHS England to put in place contingency plans to protect patient safety. The NHS will prioritise resources to protect emergency treatment, critical care, neonatal care and trauma.”
Health leaders have warned patient care “rests on a knife edge” ahead of the strikes and said they are working at “full pelt” to make sure emergency and other life-saving care can continue safely.
They warned that “huge uncertainty“ remains over the level of cover they will be able to secure in time from other professionals to fill key shifts.
Even providing “basic patient safety” is a worry for some, said the NHS Confederation.
Dr Layla McCay, director of policy at the NHS Confederation, said: “Health leaders are bracing themselves for the most significant strikes in a decade with many aspects of patient care resting on a knife-edge.
“They are doing their best to mitigate any risks, which unfortunately means making the difficult decision to cancel more planned treatments and appointments than they would have liked to have done so that they can prioritise the most life-critical services.
“The NHS will be open for business but this will not mean business as usual.
“We urge the Government and trade unions to do everything they can to call off these strikes and to step up public communications urgently so that people who need healthcare understand what is available and at stake.”
The four days of strikes will come immediately after the Easter bank holiday weekend.
They will run from 6.59am on Tuesday until 6.59am on Saturday April 15.