Junior doctors stage rally at Manchester’s ConfedExpo conference ahead of Health Secretary speech

Hundreds of junior doctors have staged a rally outside an NHS conference where the Health Secretary is due to speak.

It comes as the British Medical Association (BMA) said it will ballot training doctors next week to extend its strike mandate with a view to striking every month until next spring.

Medics chanted: "What do we want? Fair pay. When do we want it? Now."

Chants of "cuts don't pay the bills" were also heard.

Steve Barclay is set to talk at ConfedExpo conference in Manchester on Thursday, 15 June.

Health Secretary Steve Barclay instructed the CQC to introduce the changes. Credit: PA Images

Junior doctors across England are currently on strike for 72 hours.

It is the third round of strikes by training medics in the current dispute, with past walkouts taking place in March and April.

If members vote to continue the action, junior doctors will take to picket lines for three days a month, every month, until March 2024, the PA news agency has learned.

The move would represent a significant escalation in the dispute with the Government over pay.

Junior doctors said they will also consider "co-ordinated action" with consultants, who are also currently being balloted over the possibility of strike action.

Dr Vivek Trivedi, co-chairman of the BMA Junior Doctors' Committee, said, "We have said that we are prepared to take three days of action every month for the rest of our mandate if we need to - but that's the key thing, if we need to - and we didn't actually even need to take strike in the first place.

"We only took action because we were ignored by the Government.

"And even now, Mr Barclay - well, it actually seems to be Mr Sunak who is actually pulling the strings - has the ability to get these strikes called off.

"All we need to know is that he's serious, he's willing to put a credible offer on the table that we can use to negotiate with.

"And going forwards, if we're happy to have an open, honest conversation, then we don't need to ever go on strike again.

"But if the Government continue to act in bad faith, as they have repeatedly in the past, we are preparing for further strike action and actually are making preparations to re-ballot our members to extend our strike mandate."

Junior doctors are calling for "fair pay." Credit: PA Images

Dr Trivedi added, "Our mandate expires on August 19 and we will be re-balloting from June 19, which is next Monday up until the end of August.

"That will take us through to February/March 2024 and we would re-ballot at that point if we needed to.

"The key emphasis on 'if we need to', which we don't if the Government meets us."

Asked if junior doctors will consider striking alongside consultant colleagues, Dr Emma Runswick, deputy chairwoman of the BMA council, said, "Patient safety is top of our agenda so I can't see a world where it would be simultaneous, but will it co-ordinated? The answer has to be yes.

"The question is, 'How do we get the Government to shift their position?' which is so unreasonable at the moment.

"And if it takes co-ordination of action to do that then that's what we'll do."

Dr Runswick said co-ordinated action could include consecutive strikes from juniors and consultants, with junior doctors taking action before or after any potential consultant walkout.

She said: "There is remarkable understanding from patients and the public on picket lines that if we... if we don't turn this trend around, waiting lists will only go up and people who are in hospital receiving urgent care will get worse care slower.

"So I think there is widespread understanding of the importance of this dispute."

Many key NHS figures ducked out of the NHS's annual meeting to manage the strike's fallout.

NHS England boss Amanda Pritchard said the strike is a "serious risk to patient safety" and industrial action "creates risk and upheaval".

She said tens of thousands of appointments will be affected.

Speaking before leaving the conference to co-ordinate the strike response from the London office, she told delegates on Wednesday: "We must prioritise the management of what is a serious business continuity incident and therefore a serious risk to patient safety."

She added: "As much as we learn from managing each action every time it happens, it creates risk and upheaval and distracts from our priorities, particularly elective recovery.

"Over half a million appointments have already had to be rescheduled. Many of those people will have been waiting months.

"It's likely we'll see tens of thousands more affected this week.

"So while the NHS will of course expertly manage the incident to the best of our ability, I know we all hope for a resolution soon."

Asked about Ms Pritchard's comments, Dr Trivedi told PA: "I'm happy to have a chat with her and explore with those risks that she thinks that exist there.

"Looking at the evidence from the first and second round of strikes is that patient safety was maintained and wasn't put at risk.

"So I don't think there's anything to suggest that, from the information that I've seen, that that has changed with our third round of action."

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: "The suggestion that junior doctors could strike regularly over consecutive days every month for a year or more will be extremely worrying to healthcare leaders.

"If further industrial action is also co-ordinated with strikes by consultant doctors, should they announce they have a mandate, then patient safety will be put at further risk.

"We know health services are already struggling with severe staff shortages in many areas, and with the NHS carrying over 120,000 vacancies, further industrial action will very likely leave one of the Prime Minister's key missions, that of reducing waiting lists, at risk.

"Healthcare leaders and their staff have moved mountains and made great strides in bringing down waiting lists, especially for those patients waiting the longest.

"However, a drawn out and protracted series of doctors strikes over the next 12 months and beyond risks this progress being eroded, and NHS leaders must not be blamed if targets are missed."