As 24 hours of coordinated strike action between junior doctors and consultants in England gets under way, findings from a survey of the public reveal a majority believes the Government should reopen pay talks and crucially, should use the funds associated with covering industrial action to settle the pay dispute. It is estimated the strikes have cost the Government £1bn so far, in increased costs to provide cover. The BMA has calculated that restoring the pay of junior doctors and settling the dispute would have cost the same amount.
In what the BMA believes to be the first survey of public opinion on the pay negotiations, the findings are a clear indication of public sentiment about the Government’s handling of the dispute so far.
The BMA-commissioned survey asked members of the public how they thought the Government should have used the money spent on strikes so far. Over 63% of respondents said the Government should have used that money to pay doctors and settle the dispute. The public was also asked, “How important or unimportant do you believe it is that the Government re-opens talks with the BMA? 70% of respondents said it was important or very important. Another 43% of those asked in the survey believe the Government is giving too little attention to issues around doctors pay.
The Government broke down negotiation talks with junior doctors in England back in May and at the time of the survey, it had been over 170 days since there were any formal negotiations between the Health Secretary and consultants. Over the weekend, in what the BMA sees as a significant step forward by the Government, there were fresh talks between the Government and consultants but at this stage, an agreement has not been reached.
Consultants began their latest round of strike action yesterday, and today is a coordinated day of action from junior doctors and consultants in England, with “Christmas Day” cover, from both groups. Junior doctors will continue their strike with a full walkout until Saturday of this week with consultants return to work. A further three days of joint action are planned for next month.
BMA consultants committee chair Dr Vishal Sharma said:
“It is beyond doubt, from this survey, that patients and the public want to see the Government working with doctors to bring an end to industrial action. We have been asking for months for negotiations to reopen and for the Government to put an offer on the table. The fact that there have been some constructive conversations with Government representatives is encouraging but it is crucial that formal talks commence and that the Government provides us with a credible offer that we can put to our members.
“We do not want to strike. We want to be on wards, in operating theatres and in clinics with our patients – the same patients that may well have taken part in this opinion poll. This survey shows those patients, and the wider public would far rather the Government got back round the table with us. We can only hope ministers listen and recognise the strength of feeling - from the public as well as doctors – that we can move towards a resolution of this dispute if the Government would agree to resume formal negotiations with the BMA."
BMA Junior doctor committee co-chairs Dr Rob Laurenson and Dr Vivek Trivedi said:
“The politicians should listen to public opinion as it could not be clearer – they want the talks to reopen and so do we. The groundswell of opinion not just on reopening the talks but also on the use of funds to settle the pay dispute should be the wake up call the Prime Minister and Health Secretary need.
“Junior doctors in England do not want to strike but we will, and we will do so for as long as it takes for this Government to get back round the table and give us a credible offer to bring an end to the strikes. The Prime Minister’s latest offer is still a real terms pay cut, amounting to a doctor being paid just over £15ph when starting work and still sees junior doctors around 26% worse off than in 2008. The only workforce to have lost more of their pay in this time, are our consultant colleagues.
“This survey shows the public is as keen for the Government re-open talks as we are, and for our calls for pay restoration to be met. Doctors are simply trying to reverse the brutal pay cuts the Government has inflicted and go back to neutral in real terms to 2008. What stronger signal is needed for the Prime Minister than that of the electorate telling him his government needs to settle the dispute?”
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.
The survey was conducted by Walnut Unlimited on behalf of the BMA between the 12th and 14th September 2023. The survey was conducted online, interviewing a nationally representative sample of 1765 of adults in England (aged 18+).
Q10_1. Doctors' pay (Please rate how much attention you think the Government is giving to the following issues.)
Too much attention: 253 (15%)
About the right amount of attention: 736 (42%)
Too little attention: 749 (43%)
Q11. The Government has said that it will not negotiate with the British Medical Association over a new pay offer for doctors to bring the current dispute to an end. How important or unimportant do you believe it is that the Government re-opens talks with the BMA?
Very important: 754 (43%)
Somewhat important: 465 (27%)
Neither important nor unimportant: 201 (12%)
Somewhat unimportant: 93 (5%)
Very unimportant: 119 (7%)
Q12. It has been estimated that the NHS strikes have cost the Government £1bn so far, in increased costs to provide cover. It has been estimated that restoring the pay of junior doctors and settling the dispute would have cost the same amount. How do you think the Government should have used this money?
To pay doctors more and settle the dispute: 1086 (63%)
To pay for cover throughout industrial action: 255 (15%)
Don’t know: 191 (11%)
Neither of these: 204 (12%)