Negotiations are required to end the strikes of young doctors

  • Author: Nick Triggle
  • Health Correspondent

Doctors chiefs and ministers are being urged to start formal pay talks after a breakthrough deal with other NHS staff in England.

But the British Medical Association (BMA) and the government are yet to hold talks to resolve the doctors’ dispute.

Young doctors in England took part in a three-day walkout earlier this week.

The strike, which affected scheduled and emergency services, caused major disruption, NHS bosses said.

Thursday’s fresh pay offer for NHS staff, including nurses, ambulance workers and physiotherapists, has the support of most unions and has given hope that the strikes that ravaged the NHS over the winter are a thing of the past.

This offer, which has not yet been made, includes a one-off payment of at least £1,655 to see you through the pandemic.

The 14 unions involved will now put it to a vote by their members, with the three biggest – the Royal College of Nursing, Unison and the GMB – backing the deal.

But Unite has said it cannot recommend the offer but will vote on it and support the decision it makes.

The junior doctors’ pay dispute is far from settled, with the BMA demanding a 35 per cent pay rise, which it claims will reverse 15 years of cuts.

The government made a last-minute offer of formal wage negotiations last Friday – three days before the walkout.

However, the BMA rejected it, saying the pre-conditions were unacceptable.

The board was only willing to discuss the salary of junior doctors for the next fiscal year and the possibility of receiving a one-time payment for the past year in exchange for calling off the strike.

This was the same offer made to unions representing other NHS staff, sources said.

After Thursday’s breakthrough, Health Minister Steve Barclay urged junior doctors to call off industrial action and start negotiations, saying the request for a 35 per cent pay rise was “not affordable”.

“We have offered the young doctors the same conditions that other unions accepted, and I hope the young doctors will respond to that,” he said.

Thursday’s pay offer now puts the onus on both sides in the doctors’ dispute to show a willingness to go around the table.

Barclay and the BMA have exchanged letters in the past 24 hours, but no agreement has yet been reached to start negotiations.

Privately, many observers say that the greatest pressure is on doctors. They are asking if other NHS frontline workers, who are generally lower paid than junior doctors, are prepared to accept a 5 per cent rise and a one-off payment of £1,600 to £2,500.

Matthew Taylor, from the NHS Confederation, said: “Health leaders are calling on junior doctors and the government to use this deal as a way to start negotiations to resolve this dispute.”

And Sir Julian Hartley, chief executive of NHS Providers, added that there must be “urgent movement” in the talks, saying both sides needed to “redouble” efforts.

Louise Ansari, director of patient watchdog Healthwatch England, said: “We are now calling for a swift resolution of the pay dispute between doctors and the government to avoid further delays in patient care.”

The question of how any wage agreement will be paid remains. Ministers said they could guarantee frontline services would not be affected by Thursday’s pay offer for NHS staff.

Mr Barclay said discussions were being held with the Treasury over how it would be funded, and the Department of Health was looking at under-utilisation and administrative savings to fund the pay deal.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called the pay deal “affordable for taxpayers” and said it still kept its promise to halve inflation.

Most unions have also suspended strike action in Wales and Scotland while new offers are considered. Scotland’s GMB has accepted a Scottish offer worth 14% over two years.

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