Five-day junior doctors strike begins in England as government urges BMA to be 'reasonable'

Junior doctors have walked out for the tenth time in less than a year, as ITV News' Charlotte Cross reports

The health secretary has urged junior doctors in England to "show they are prepared to be reasonable" as a five-day strike begins.

The walk-out by junior doctors is the 10th time they have gone on strike since March last year, amid calls from health chiefs for unions and ministers to settle the dispute.

The latest strike began at 7am on Saturday and junior doctors will not return to work until 11.59pm on Wednesday.

Dr Robert Laurenson and Dr Vivek Trivedi, co-chairs of the BMA junior doctors committee, said: “The Government could have stopped these strikes by simply making a credible pay offer for junior doctors in England to begin reversing the pay cuts they have inflicted upon us for more than a decade.

“The same Government could have even accepted our offer to delay this round of strike action to give more space for talks – all we asked for in return was a short extension of our mandate to strike.

“The fact that ministers have chosen strike action over what could have been the end of this year’s pay dispute is disappointing to say the least.”

They claim “more and more” junior doctors are moving abroad for better-paying jobs, adding: “All doctors are looking for is to reverse pay cuts and be paid the same, in real terms, as in 2008 – which looks like around £21 per hour instead of the current £15 per hour.

“This is the way to a better-staffed, more effective health service, and all the Government has to do to call off these strikes is come forward with a credible way of getting there.”

But the government said the BMA had refused to put an offer to members and urged the junior doctors to be "reasonable".

Victoria Atkins Credit: Victoria Jones/PA

Health Secretary Victoria Atkins said: “I want to see doctors treating patients, not standing on picket lines.

“In negotiations with the BMA junior doctors committee, we made it clear we were prepared to go further than the pay increase of up to 10.3% that they have already received. They refused to put our offer to their members.

“More than 1.3 million appointments and operations have already been cancelled or rescheduled since industrial action began – five days of further action will compound this.

“The NHS has robust contingency plans in place, and it is vital that people continue to come forward for treatment. But no one should underestimate the impact these strikes have on our NHS.

“So again, I urge the BMA junior doctors committee to call off their strikes and show they are prepared to be reasonable, so that we can come back to the negotiating table to find a fair way forward.”

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Welsh junior doctors also joined picket lines, as they walked out on Wednesday. Credit: PA

The latest round of strike action is the last under the BMA's current mandate.

However, Dr Laurenson and Dr Trivedi said they expect the mandate to be renewed into the autumn given the “strength of determination shown by junior doctors across the country”.

They added: “There is no point in the Government delaying any further. The time to end this dispute is now.”

NHS national medical director Professor Sir Stephen Powis said it is “extremely concerning” that strike action and disruption “are becoming a ‘new normal’”.

“For the equivalent of more than one in every 10 days last year, the NHS has had to effectively stop carrying out most routine appointments to prioritise emergency care,” he added.

“The impact of this over a prolonged period continues to build at a time where staff are already under pressure, tackling the elective backlog and focusing on recovery.”

Sir Julian Hartley, chief executive of NHS Providers, has urged unions and the Government to “redouble their efforts to find a resolution”.

Have you heard our new podcast Talking Politics? Every week Tom, Robert and Anushka dig into the biggest issues dominating the political agenda…