BMA says NHS failures have made planning safe industrial action more challenging

by BMA media team

BMA press release

Location: England
Published: Tuesday 3 October 2023
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Responding to a letter by NHS Englandexpressing concerns around the cumulative impact of industrial action on patient safety, the chair of the BMA Professor Phil Banfield details2 how repeated planning failures by NHS England has made it harder to organise safe striking.

The chair of the BMA writes: “We have always been open to discussing ways in which together we can maintain patient safety during industrial action, and we communicated this directly to colleagues at NHS England, most recently in a meeting just yesterday.”

Throughout the letter, the chair of the BMA details several planning failures including that some NHS Trusts had not appropriately rescheduled non-urgent elective activity in the days leading up to strikes which has directly impacted the ability to prioritise more urgent care needs.

Professor Banfield also asserts that decisions made by NHS England to communicate unilateral guidance at odds with the guidance we previously agreed has undoubtedly made planning for safe industrial action harder.  

Challenging claims that the Christmas day cover provided is insufficient to provide appropriate levels of patient safety, the chair of the BMA writes: “I do not agree that the Christmas and Boxing Day model of industrial action is unsafe or that it is the reason for the issues you have detailed in your letter. This model only applies to consultants and junior doctors eligible to strike. Consequently, actual staffing is higher than Christmas and Boxing Day, given SAS doctors, various non-striking consultant and junior doctors, as well as allied health professionals continue to work as normal. Instead, there is clear evidence of the failure by some trusts to adequately prepare for industrial action. In particular the BMA is aware that some trusts have continued with significant amounts of elective activity during industrial action and have failed to reschedule non-urgent elective care in an attempt to meet political targets. This is causing unnecessary risk of harm.”

Reaffirming the BMA’s commitment to working together with NHS England to make the process as safe for patients as possible, Professor Banfield writes: “We will happily work with NHS England again on clearer guidance to trusts to prevent any safety issues arising. That offer has always been there and has been communicated frequently. We meet colleagues at NHS England and NHS Employers up to 4 times per day during industrial action, and several times in the run up to each round of strike action.”

In the conclusion of the letter, the chair of the BMA calls for NHS England to communicate their concerns to the Prime Minister and for him to open pay negotiations with both junior doctors and consultants. He writes: “As you know, no further industrial action has been called, and it is now incumbent upon the Government to come to the table, drop their refusal to negotiate on pay and settle its dispute with doctors.”

Notes to editors

  1.  Letter to Professor Phil Banfield from NHS England is attached.
  2. Letter from Professor Phil Banfield to Professor Sir Stephen Powis is attached