New health secretary says 'NHS is broken' as junior doctor talks to 'start next week'

Wes Streeting, the UK's new health secretary, has said the NHS is 'going through the biggest crisis in its history'. Credit: PA

Junior doctors in England will restart negotiations with the government next week, new health and social care secretary has said. Wes Streeting delivered on his promise to call junior doctors in England on “day one” of a Labour government following his party's historic election victory on Friday.

Health leaders have urged the government to resolve the long-running dispute as a “priority” after it emerged that tens of thousands of appointments were postponed as a result of the latest strike. “I have just spoken over the phone with the BMA (British Medical Association) junior doctors committee, and I can announce that talks to end their industrial action will begin next week,” Mr Streeting said in a statement. “We promised during the campaign that we would begin negotiations as a matter of urgency, and that is what we are doing.”

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Medics in training across the NHS downed their stethoscopes and went on strike for five full days from June 27. NHS England said 61,989 appointments, procedures and operations were postponed as a result of the latest round of industrial action by junior doctors.

The latest walkout was the 11th strike by junior doctors in 20 months. Junior doctors in England have said their pay has been cut by more than a quarter over the last 15 years and have called for a 35% increase. Mr Streeting has said previously he would not meet the 35%, saying that if he gave in to the demand then “any trade union worth their salt” would come back the following year with the same request. He has said there is “space for a discussion” on pay, as well as negotiations on how to improve working conditions for medics in training.

A Royal College of Nursing spokesperson said: “NHS staff haven’t given up, but they are exhausted and need the Secretary of State to help. “A fair pay settlement for all is the first step into rescuing health and care services, along with proper investment to boost recruitment and retention. We can’t keep asking the same dedicated health workers to do more with less.”

In his first statement as health secretary, Mr Streeting said the policy of his department is that "the NHS is broken", warning that “patients are being failed on a daily basis”.

“Previous governments have not been willing to admit these simple facts. But in order to cure an illness, you must first diagnose it," he said.

Mr Streeting said the health service is “going through the biggest crisis in its history” and it cannot be fixed overnight, but pledged to start working on its issues "today".

“This government has received a mandate from millions of voters for change and reform of the NHS, so it can be there for us when we need it once again. It will take time – we never pretended that the NHS could be fixed overnight," he said. “And it will take a team effort. It will be the mission of my department, every member of this government, and the 1.4 million people who work in the NHS, to turn our health service around. “We have done this before. When we were last in office, we worked hand in hand with NHS staff to deliver the shortest waits and highest patient satisfaction in history. We did it before, and together, we will do it again. That work starts today.” Referring to his treatment for kidney cancer in 2021, Mr Streeting said: “When I was diagnosed with kidney cancer, the NHS saved my life. Today, I can begin to repay that debt, by saving our NHS.”

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