Public sector pay: 6% offer a 'missed opportunity' to end NHS strikes, says BMA

Video report by ITV News Health Correspondent Martin Stew; Words by Westminster Producer Lucy McDaid

NHS strikes look likely to continue despite Rishi Sunak insisting a 6% pay rise was his "final" offer, with the British Medical Association calling it a "missed opportunity" to end walkouts.

Accepting the recommendations of the independent public sector pay review bodies, Rishi Sunak said it was a "clear message" to striking workers that they should "know when to say yes" and call off their ongoing industrial action.

Making the announcement on Thursday, the prime minister said millions of public sector workers would get a pay rise of up to 7% - funded by the 're-prioritisation' of existing budgets and raising £1bn through increases in migrant health and visa fees.

But while it was hoped the acceptance of the pay review body recommendations would appease those staging walkouts, the BMA rejected the offer for junior doctors and said the proposed uplift "is unlikely to do much to help retain a beleaguered, burnt out, undervalued workforce".

On the same day junior doctors in England started their longest ever walkout, Mr Sunak said they will receive a 6% wage rise along with an additional consolidated increase of £1,250.

Hospital consultants, set to strike in England next week, will receive a 6% rise.

At a Downing Street press conference, Mr Sunak called on the BMA to help "make the NHS strong again" and avoid further disruption by accepting the decision on pay.

"The government has not only made today's decision on pay," he said.

"We've backed the NHS with record funding, delivered the first ever, fully funded long-term workforce plan and met the BMA's number one ask of government, with a pensions tax cut worth £1 billion.

"So, we should all ask ourselves, whether union leaders, or indeed political leaders, how can it be right to continue disruptive industrial action?

"Not least because these strikes lead to tens of thousands of appointments being cancelled, every single day and waiting lists going up, not down."

His speech came on the day latest figures revealed the number of people waiting for routine NHS treatment had reached another record high, putting further strain on the prime minister's pledge to cut times.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has pledged to halve inflation to around 5% by the end of the year Credit: Jack Hill/The Times/PA

But BMA chairman of council Professor Phil Banfield said: "This government is driving doctors away from the NHS and this country; it needs to wake up and realise the true cost of keeping the expertise of doctors.

"Today, it missed a huge opportunity to put a credible proposal on the table to end strikes.

"This uplift still fails tens of thousands of frontline staff and is unlikely to do much to help retain a beleaguered, burnt out, undervalued workforce."

Prof Banfield said consultants "remain willing to talk" but the offer means "they are likely to continue to take industrial action".

It was also "highly likely" that other kinds of doctors represented by the BMA, GPs and specialty doctors, "will consider their next steps".

But Rishi Sunak immediately shut down any possibility of talks resuming, with his official spokesperson insisting "there will be no more talks on pay".

"I don't think the prime minister could have been clearer today," he said.

In what Mr Sunak hailed as a "major breakthrough" on Thursday, teachers from the NASUWT Union in England called off their planned strikes after news of the pay deal was announced.

It will now come down to a vote by the four unions - ASCL, NAHT, NASUWT and NEU - but the deal will be put to members with the advice they accept the STRB (School Teachers' Review Body) recommendation of a 6.5% pay award.

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