BMA Consultants begin two days of strikes in England – and announce further action to come

consultants on the picket line
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On 24 August, British Medical Association (BMA) consultants in England began two more days of strikes, and announced further industrial action in October. They’re striking to force the government to fix their rate of pay and improve the retention of these highly trained NHS professionals.

BMA consultants committee chair Dr Vishal Sharma said in a press release:

No consultant wants to be striking and we head out to picket lines today with heavy hearts. We would much rather be inside the hospital seeing our patients. But we cannot sit by and watch passively as we are persistently devalued, undermined and forced to watch colleagues leave – much to the detriment of the NHS and patients.

Plummeting take-home pay

The strike started at 7am on 24 August. It’s set to end at the same time on Saturday 26 August. The next round of action will then take place on 19 and 20 September.

What’s more, without significant progress on talks with the government, consultants will also strike 2-4 October. This would mark their longest period of industrial action so far.

This outcome looks increasingly likely, given that it’s now been 150 days since the Health Secretary met with the consultants committee. For its part, the BMA announced these new dates so far in advance in order to allow their colleagues to prepare for the impact of the strikes.

Since 2008/9, consultants’ take-hope pay has plummeted by more than a third. As such, the BMA committee is pressing the government for a “credible offer”. They want to see an end to the pay cuts, along with a commitment to reforming pay reviews into a truly independent  process.

Read on...

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‘An insult to consultants’

However, the Government has instead chosen to add insult to injury. Last month, it imposed another real-terms pay cut with an uplift of just 6%. The BMA branded this below-inflation increase “an insult to consultants”.

Dr Sharma raged that our government is “not serious about the NHS”:

First the Prime Minister blamed COVID and now he attempts to scapegoat doctors for his failure to bring down waiting lists. The reality however is that we had record waiting lists before the pandemic and before any periods of industrial action, and they were due to the Government’s failure to properly invest in the NHS and its staff. The waiting lists can only be brought down by recruiting and retaining doctors. This starts with valuing them properly – not by subjecting them to further real-terms pay cuts, as the Government did last month.

He went on to state that:

Our message to the Prime Minister is that we are serious about protecting the consultant workforce and thereby the NHS and patients. We are striking today, and will do so again in September and October, but the Prime Minister has the power to avert any further action at all, by getting around the table and presenting us with a credible offer.

As Government ministers gather in Manchester in the first week of October wouldn’t Mr Sunak rather be telling his colleagues and the public that he has resolved this dispute by offering consultants a deal that truly values the work we do, rather than apologising and making excuses for why he’s forced us out on strike once more?

The consultants have made it abundantly clear that they’re prepared to take regular action. The Tories should be in no doubt that this dispute cannot be resolved without them coming to the table to negotiate seriously. What’s more, the strikes certainly won’t end without a credible pay offer.

The BMA’s message is a simple one: “We will not be ignored”. Now, it remains to be seen if and when the government will take notice.

Featured image via screengrab X/BMA Consultants

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