Consultants in England ‘ready to strike’, as BMA consultative ballot shows overwhelming support for industrial action

by BMA media team

Press release from the BMA

Location: England
Published: Monday 6 March 2023
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More than 17,000 NHS consultants in England have voted decisively for strike action in a consultative ballot1. The ballot asked senior hospital doctors if they would be prepared to strike over the failure to address the ongoing pensions crisis and cuts to their pay. The turnout was 61% and 86% voted in favour of strike action.

Whilst a consultative ballot does not provide a legal mandate for strike action, this emphatic result represents the strength of the anger amongst England’s senior doctors. Their despair and frustration has been heard loud and clear and unless the Government outlines serious proposals before the 3rd April  about how it intends to fix pay, fix pensions and fix the broken pay review process, the BMA will proceed to a statutory ballot of consultants in England around the 17th April. If the ballot is successful, it will provide the Association with a legal mandate for industrial action and allow consultants to take strike action this spring.

Dr Vishal Sharma, chair of the BMA consultants committee, said:

“In my 25 years in the NHS, I have never seen consultants more demoralised, frustrated and in despair over this Government’s refusal to support the NHS workforce and the patients they serve. Consultants lead the teams which provide expert care and treatment to patients, they train future doctors, they innovate to improve patient services and lead medical research. Millions of patients benefit from the expert care and treatment that consultants provide. Despite these significant contributions, the Government is refusing to listen to consultants’ concerns, driving many out of the NHS entirely. If the Government truly wants to get the NHS back on track and tackle the record waiting lists, it must support the consultant workforce.

“Our position is clear. We will not allow the Government to continue to degrade consultants’ pay and pensions. This is having a hugely detrimental impact on patient care as staffing numbers plummet and things will only worsen unless we take a stand. Strike action is always a last resort and we have set out a clear timeline for the Government to put a serious proposal on the table. It is within the Government’s gift to pay doctors fairly for the crucial, lifesaving work they do and there are clear, straightforward solutions to fix the punitive pensions tax rules. For example, the government can implement a tax unregistered scheme, similar to the one it has already done for judges in order to enable doctors to remain working in the NHS. Our door remains open; it is not too late to prevent consultants from acting. But if the Government refuses to propose a workable solution, our members have made it clear that they are prepared to strike.”

The workforce crisis in the NHS is putting patient safety at risk as real terms pay cuts and punitive pension tax rules push doctors to consider reducing their hours or retire  early. This means a significant loss of valuable skills and expertise to patient care and crucial mentoring to more junior doctors. Hospital consultants have faced some of the steepest cuts to their pay of any group of workers over the last fifteen years and since 2008/09, the average consultant in England has seen their take-home pay cut by nearly 35% in real terms2. Despite ministers’ insistence that decisions around pay are devolved to a supposedly ‘independent’ pay review process, these pay cuts have occurred because the pay review bodies have been constantly interfered with by the Government.

For years, the BMA has been urging Ministers to fix the pension tax trap. The Health and Social Care Committee described the pension tax crisis as a ‘national scandal’ and that it was contributing to ‘the greatest workforce crisis in its history’. Despite the turmoil that punitive pension tax rules are inflicting on patients and the NHS, the Government has refused to implement the reasonable and fair solutions proposed by the BMA, such as a tax unregistered scheme similar to the one it offered to judges. Such a solution is not only be fair to the taxpayer but would enable doctors to maximise the amount of care they can provide for patients.

Strike action by consultants will mean consultants running a “bank-holiday” service on weekdays ensuring that emergency or urgent care remains in place. The BMA is clear that strike action is a last resort, and the Government can avoid it entirely by entering meaningful negotiations, before the 3rd April to address the BMA’s concerns . However, if ministers fail to do so, the BMA will proceed to a ballot.

Notes to editors

The BMA is a professional association and trade union representing and negotiating on behalf of all doctors in the UK. A leading voice advocating for outstanding health care and a healthy population. An association providing members with excellent individual services and support throughout their lives.

  1. The consultative ballot was launched on Friday 10 February and closed on Monday 27 February. The ballot was open to all consultants working for the NHS in England who are BMA members.

Ballot results breakdown:

  • 34,618 NHS consultants were entitled to vote in the ballot;
  • 21,031 votes were cast, 60.75% of those entitled to vote;
  • 17,886 (85.84%) answered ‘yes’ to the question: “Are you prepared to take part in strike action?”
  • 2,951 (14.16%) answered ‘no’ to the question: “Are you prepared to take part in strike action?”
  • 194 spoilt or otherwise invalid voting papers returned.

2. Demanding fair pay for NHS consultants