SAS doctors in England have begun a formal ballot on possible strike action, amid continuing negotiations with the Government to improve pay and conditions.
A statutory ballot of specialist, associate specialist and specialty doctors was launched on 6 November, as the BMA consultants committee confirmed it will re-ballot members in England about renewing its mandate for industrial action.
Should they succeed, the ballots – both of which open today and close on 18 December – will give SAS doctors and consultants mandates for industrial action until June 2024.
An indicative ballot of SAS doctors announced on 20 October revealed more than 88 per cent of those who participated expressed willingness to take industrial action on worsening pay and working conditions.
Following this result, BMA specialist, associate specialist and specialty doctors chair Ujjwala Mohite (pictured above) accepted an offer by the Department of Health to resume talks on improving terms, while warning her committee would move to a formal ballot by 6 November unless progress was made.
Short on agreement
Speaking today, Dr Mohite said that, while strike action was a last resort and that her committee would continue negotiations, the lack of a ‘credible offer’ to date meant it had become necessary to seek a mandate from SAS doctors.
She said: ‘It’s disappointing that, despite Government inviting us to talks, it has failed to present us with a credible offer. While talks continue to progress we are clearly still somewhat short of the credible offer we are asking Government for. We are therefore asking SAS doctors to give us the mandate for action, should we need it because the current round of talks fail.
‘SAS doctors have made it very clear we do not want to strike, we want to work and care for our patients, but we can no longer ignore the profession’s ever-growing pay and working conditions concerns – it’s driving doctors out of our health service and leaving those of us who remain with an unmanageable workload all while feeling undervalued and burnt out.
‘Industrial action is our absolute last resort, and we remain hopeful that we’ll receive a credible offer as talks continue. It is in the Government’s gift to find a resolution before Christmas and avoid strike action; patients and our NHS are relying on our leaders to do so.’
A first round of strike action among consultants in England began on 20 July this year, with members having last taken industrial action between 2-5 October.
Despite pausing further action to resume talks on restoring pay and reforming the Review Body on Doctors' and Dentists' Remuneration, BMA consultants committee chair Vishal Sharma said renewing the mandate for possible future action was vital.
He said: ‘We gave the Government a month to get back around the table. Whilst it’s been incredibly frustrating the Government didn’t respond until a few days before the deadline, we have now commenced talks.
‘These discussions have been constructive and are ongoing. Therefore, given our willingness to resolve this dispute we are not announcing further strike dates right now – but reserve the right to do so if necessary.
‘Our re-ballot begins today as planned as it’s vital that, even during these negotiations, we continue to have a legal mandate to call more industrial action if they break down.’
He added: ‘Neither the Government nor senior doctors themselves want consultants to be on strike – we’d both much rather we were in hospitals seeing patients.
‘To prevent further strikes we need the Government to commit to fix pay now and for the future, only then can we not only resolve this dispute, but retain the NHS’s most expert clinicians at a time they’re needed most.’