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Junior doctors to strike for three days before Christmas holidays

A round of strikes will take place for three days from 7am on Wednesday Dec 20
A round of strikes will take place for three days from 7am on Wednesday Dec 20 - Jacob King/PA Wire

Junior doctors have announced a strike covering the three days before the Christmas holidays after failing to reach a deal with the Government.

The trainee doctors will take to picket lines for 72 hours heading into the weekend before Christmas, walking out at 7am on Wednesday Dec 20.

They will then start a six-day walkout on Wednesday Jan 3. It would be the longest in NHS history if it goes ahead, surpassing the five-day strike by junior doctors in July.

The British Medical Association (BMA) said it had been “forced to call strikes” after the Government was “unable to present a credible offer on pay by the deadline”.

Victoria Atkins, the Health Secretary, said striking doctors were “risking patient safety” during the busy winter period.

“It is disappointing that, despite significant progress, the BMA junior doctors’ committee have walked away from negotiations and declared new strikes, which will result in more disruption for patients and extra pressure on NHS services and staff as we enter a busy winter period, risking patient safety,” she said.

“I have been clear that I respect the work of doctors in training and want to work with them to settle this dispute.”

The Health Secretary added that she was prepared to “immediately look to come back to the table” if strikes were called off.

Ministers are particularly concerned about the impact of a long strike during the first week of January, which is normally when the NHS is under most strain as services struggle to cope after the Christmas break. Health service leaders said it was the outcome they “were dreading” at the “busiest and toughest time of the year”.

It is understood that an offer of a three per cent increase in the overall pay pot had been proposed, on top of an average 8.8 per cent pay rise for 2023-24. The discussions had been ongoing, with no final offer on the table, when the BMA broke off talks.

Since agreeing a deal with consultants last week, Ms Atkins had been at pains to express her “respect” for junior doctors. The approach contrasted with that of her predecessor, Steve Barclay, who had described them as “militant”.

Both parties had agreed to five weeks of talks to reach a deal following the last round of strikes in October.

The BMA’s consultant committee has put a deal to its members to vote on. The proposed package includes an overhaul of pay grades to reduce the number of different pay steps from eight to four, and would increase consultants’ salaries by an average of 4.95 per cent, with some earning up to 12.8 per cent more.

However, the pay offer for junior doctors, along with reforms to the system of pay, was rejected by the union, which said it had voted unanimously to continue strike action.

Dr Robert Laurenson, the BMA junior doctors’ committee co-chairman, said: “We have been clear from the outset of these talks that we needed to move at pace and, if we did not have a credible offer, we would be forced to call strikes.

“After five weeks of intense talks, the Government was unable to present a credible offer on pay by the deadline. Instead, we were offered an additional three per cent, unevenly spread across doctors’ grades, which would still amount to pay cuts for many doctors this year.”

“Without enough progress by the deadline, we have no choice but to take action that demonstrates doctors are as determined as ever in reversing their pay cuts.”

Sir Julian Hartley, the chief executive of NHS Providers, said: “This is the outcome that trust leaders were dreading. This will be the longest strike in NHS history during the busiest and toughest time of the year for the NHS.

“These strikes will undermine efforts to cut waiting lists further, they’ll have a serious knock-on effect on services right across the NHS and they’ll impact the quality of care for patients.”

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