A new survey of junior doctors1 today reveals the impact the Government’s refusal to make a credible pay offer is having on the profession’s morale, as a new three-day strike in England gets underway.
After months of intransigence and two full rounds of strikes from junior doctors in England, the Government made a meagre and insufficient offer last month, which would have amounted to another year of real-terms pay cuts. Worryingly, 89% percent of junior doctors in England report that this attitude to negotiation has left them feeling less valued than they were before the dispute started.2
A disturbing 53% of those who took part in the survey reported making plans for leaving or thinking about leaving the NHS as a result of the Government’s response to industrial action.3
The peril to the health service was brought into even sharper relief by the finding that two-thirds (67%) did not think the NHS in its current form would exist in 10 years’ time. In the shorter term 88% expected the NHS to get worse over the next 18 months, emphasising the need for the Government to provide a workable long-term solution to the workforce crisis involving a decent pay settlement.4
Junior doctors reported little ambiguity about where the stumbling blocks to progress lay, with 80% blaming the Government and a further 10% blaming the Health Secretary, Steve Barclay, personally.5
The Health Secretary’s seeming inability to make any progress in the dispute has led many to question whether he has authority to do so, with nearly four in five respondents (79%) saying they did not consider him empowered to genuinely negotiate.6
With confidence in the Health Secretary’s power to make the offers so desperately needed rapidly fading, BMA chair of council, Professor Philip Banfield has today written to the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, urging him to intervene to resolve the dispute.
“No doctor wants to strike,” Professor Banfield writes. “They have been forced to do so to try and get your government to listen and understand the realities of how desperate things have become on the frontline of the NHS… I urge you to listen to our doctors and to meet with me and our Junior Doctors Committee as soon as possible to find a way forward in this dispute”.
Dr Vivek Trivedi and Dr Robert Laurenson, co-chairs of the BMA Junior Doctors Committee, said:
“Junior doctors are in despair at this Government’s refusal to listen. It should never have taken two whole rounds of strike action to even put a number on the table, and for that number to be a 5% pay offer – in a year of double-digit inflation, itself another pay cut – beggars belief. We have made clear that junior doctors are looking for the full restoration of our pay, which has seen a 26% cut.
“Junior doctors in England have seen their pay cut in real terms by more than a quarter over the last 15 years. Today, they are demonstrating what that means to the survival of the NHS. Junior doctors don’t expect the NHS to survive at the current rate. And they are right – it cannot survive without its most precious resource, its workforce. The NHS can only function with a workforce that is properly valued, and that is impossible when doctors are being told they are worth a quarter less than they were 15 years ago. When doctors say that the Government’s attitude is causing them to think about leaving the NHS, the Government has to listen.
“But the refusal to listen is not just the fault of the Health Secretary. It is clear now that doctors don’t believe he has been given the power to end the dispute with a fair offer, even if he wanted to. We must now therefore look to Rishi Sunak to intervene as the individual with the power over the purse strings. He has ultimate responsibility for the NHS and his political legacy will rest on how he treats it. He has to think carefully today about whether he wants to drive more doctors out with his attitude, or whether he wants to leave an NHS in 10 years’ time that we can all be proud of.”
Notes to editors
- Survey of 1935 junior doctors in England, 12th-30th May 2023
- “How has the government's response to date affected how valued you feel working as a junior doctor compared with before the industrial dispute?” - 1,589 (88.9%) answered “I feel less valued”.
- “Has the government's response to the industrial dispute made you more or less likely to leave the health service?” - 245 (13.8%) answered “I previously had not considered leaving, but I am now making active plans to do so” and 694 (39%) answered “I previously had not considered leaving, but I am now thinking about it”.
- “Do you expect the NHS to improve, worsen, stay the same or no longer exist in its current form within the following time periods?” – 1,504 answered “worsen” to “Next 18 months”, 1,149 (67%) answered “no longer exist” to “next 10 years”
- “Who do you blame for the limited progress in resolving this industrial dispute between junior doctors and the government?” 1,431 (80.1%) answered “Government as a whole” and 202 (11.3%) answered “Secretary of State for Health specifically”
- “The government has now entered into pay talks with the BMA. Do you trust the following members of the government to be able and empowered to take part in genuine negotiations?” - 1,412 (79.1%) answered “no” to Steve Barclay
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