Get back to work, Rishi Sunak tells striking doctors
Get back to work, Rishi Sunak tells striking doctors as PM blasts NHS medics for refusing bigger pay rise than ‘anyone else in the public sector’
- The Prime Minister said he had ‘behaved entirely correctly, entirely reasonably’
- Strike action in September led to 130,000 NHS appointments being cancelled
- Radiographers have today joined junior doctors and consultants in walkouts
- READ MORE: BMA accused of ‘threatening to withdraw emergency strike cover’
Rishi Sunak today told striking doctors to go back to work as thousands downed tools in one of the biggest walk-outs in NHS history.
Hospitals are being brought to a standstill because of joint 72-hour action by junior doctors and consultants earning up to £130,000-a-year.
Ministers have repeatedly refused to accept demands from union bosses to give both groups bigger pay rises during a cost-of-living crisis.
Discussing the ongoing row, the Prime Minister argued doctors were offered ‘more than anyone else in the public sector and they refused’.
He questioned why doctors haven’t ‘got on with it’, unlike teachers, and insisted the never-ending strikes were the ‘number one reason’ for the record-high NHS waiting list.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, asked if he would be willing to meet the British Medical Association over the strikes, told BBC Breakfast: ‘Of course we are, we’ve tried multiple times.’ He added: ‘Weeks after I became Prime Minister I announced record funding for the NHS
Official data released today shows strikes by consultants and junior doctors last week including a joint one-day walkout meant 133,494 routine procedures and appointments had to be rescheduled. It takes the total number of appointments cancelled to 1,018,648
Asked if he would be willing to meet the BMA over the strikes, Mr Sunak told BBC Breakfast: ‘Of course we are, we’ve tried multiple times.’
He added: ‘Weeks after I became Prime Minister I announced record funding for the NHS.
‘I come from an NHS family, of course I care about it, and we’ve resolved industrial action everywhere else across the public sector.
‘So when you’ve got the BMA on your programme I hope you ask them, did you ask them, why is it the Government has fully accepted the recommendations of an independent body – not me – who said the doctors should get a 9 per cent pay rise which, by the way, is more than the nurses, more than hospital porters, more than anyone else in the public sector and they refused?
‘So why is it that’s OK for them when everyone else in the public sector has accepted the recommendations of an independent body and got on with it and they haven’t?’
Read more: Striking doctors put mothers-to-be and their babies at risk as C-sections are axed, charities warn
Mr Sunak defended his spending on the NHS, adding: ‘We’ve behaved entirely correctly, entirely reasonably.’
The Government gave junior doctors a pay rise worth between 8.1 and 10.3 per cent.
Consultants were handed an extra 6 per cent as part of the deal, recommended by the Review Body on Doctors’ and Dentists’ Remuneration’s (DDRB).
But the BMA, which has organised the series of strikes, says doctors have seen their pay erode by up to 35 per cent over the last 15 years.
As a result, junior doctors have called for a full restoration of pay, while consultants have set their demand at 11 per cent.
In July, Mr Sunak said No10’s 2023/24 pay offer to junior doctors and consultants was the Government’s ‘final offer’.
The BMA however immediately rejected the rise, vowing to crack on with strike action.
Nurses, paramedics and other NHS staff received a five per cent rise and an ‘NHS backlog bonus’ — worth at least £1,655 per person. Unions representing staff in those pay discussions collectively voted to accept the government’s offer.
As part of the unprecedented walk-out, both consultants and junior doctors will only offer ‘Xmas Day’ levels of staffing until 7am Thursday, meaning only emergency care is unaffected.
Prior to this week’s walk-outs, junior doctors had staged 22 days of strike action, with consultants taking to the picket lines on six separate days.
Radiographers across England have also taken industrial action from 8am today, with hospital bosses fearing tens of thousands of patients will have scans cancelled.
NHS executives warned that the combined walk-outs put patients at ‘the highest level of risk in living memory’, and affected ‘many more groups of patients who haven’t been disrupted by previous strikes’.
Many routine hospital appointments and treatments, including cancer care, have already been postponed as a result of industrial action.
Health Secretary Steve Barclay today vowed to ‘take on’ and ‘stand up’ to the ‘militant’ NHS union leaders.
He said the ‘militant’ BMA strikes ‘have resulted in countless cancelled appointments and pose a serious threat to the NHS recovery from the pandemic’.
Mr Barclay said: ‘Their consultants and junior doctors committee are relentless, demanding massive pay increases even if that means diverting resources from patients and despite junior doctors already having received a pay rise of up to 10.3 per cent.
Consultants in England have taken to the picket lines on four separate days so far this summer, while junior doctors have staged 19 days of strike action this year. Both will return to the picket lines together on October, 2, 3 and 4. Radiographers are also set to join medics by walking out for 24 hours from 8am on October 3. The strike days also coincide with Rishi Sunak’s first Tory party conference as leader and prime minister
As part of the unprecedented walk-out, junior doctors and consultants will only offer ‘Xmas Day’ levels of staffing until 7am Thursday, meaning only emergency care is unaffected. But the BMA, which plotted the strike, has told NHS bosses this Christmas Day cover is only granted voluntarily. Prior to this week’s walkouts, junior doctors had staged 22 days of strike action, with consultants taking to the picket lines on six separate days. Pictured, junior doctors and consultants outside University College Hospital in London yesterday
‘But it doesn’t end there, they are even planning on taking the Government to court over our plans to let patients see their own test results on their own phones rather than taking up a GP appointment.
‘This clearly shows the BMA leadership is not on the side of change and they are not on the side of patients.’
It comes after it was revealed that pregnant women are having their planned C-sections cancelled amid the disruption.
One anonymous woman, who is 39 weeks pregnant, said it felt like she had ‘lost all control’ of her birth. She claims her ‘earliest replacement date’ is more than a week after her due date, adding: ‘I was told I should not go over my due date.’
Campaigners warned the delays might be a ‘breach of human rights law’.
‘I was told I should not go over my due date. The earliest replacement date is more than a week after my due date,’ the unidentified woman told Sky News.
‘I feel like I have now lost all control of the birth.
Read more: Health chiefs urge the government to accept ‘olive branch’ talks as consultants are ready to pause strikes for four weeks
‘I think I will be pushed for an induction before the C-section booking if I have not gone into labour.’
Planned caesareans are usually done from the 39th week of pregnancy. The risk of stillbirth is higher in mothers-to-be who go over 42 weeks.
Radiographer strikes will also limit the chances of patients using cancer, A&E and maternity services getting a scan or X-ray.
Senior leaders also warned the real impact of strikes is masked by the data, as many hospitals have stopped booking in surgeries and other appointments on announced strike days.
But patients have been urged to still attend appointments if they have not been told it is cancelled — as some doctors are still working.
The latest joint strike between medics follows their first combined industrial action in September led to almost 130,000 NHS inpatient and outpatient appointments being rescheduled.
In total, 2million appointments are thought to have been cancelled since the series of strikes began.
NHS stats show around 7.68million patients in England — or one in seven people — are now waiting for procedures such hip and knee replacements.
This includes almost 390,000 patients who have waited at least one year for treatment, often in pain.
It is the highest figure since records began in 2007.
For comparison, around 4.4million were stuck in the system when the pandemic reached the UK.
Mr Sunak claimed strikes were the ‘number one reason’ for the NHS waiting list hike.
He told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: ‘The reason that waiting lists are going up is because we’ve got industrial action because doctors are on strike.
‘Now, I’ve sat down and tried to do the reasonable thing.’
But after GMB presenter Susanna Reid intervened to say ‘no, that might be one of the reasons’, he responded ‘that is the number one reason’.
Mr Sunak added: ‘But if I could just finish, if I could just finish, it’s really important.’
Ms Reid responded: ‘That is not the number one reason. There was already a backlog.’
Mr Sunak could be heard saying ‘no, no’ as Ms Reid highlighted the pre-pandemic backlog.
However, he added: ‘If you look at what was happening to it we had stabilised it, it had stopped going up and it was forecast to start going down until industrial action started. That’s the reality of it.’
Yesterday the BMA also claimed doctors are ‘fed up’ of being labelled the problem.
Around 7.68million patients in England – or one in seven people – were in the queue in July for procedures such hip and knee replacements, official figures show. This includes almost 390,000 patients who have waited at least one year for treatment, often in pain. The monthly performance data showed the waiting list grew by more than 100,000 between June and July
It said a new survey of 1,765 adults showed that Government attempts to blame medics for ‘cripplingly long’ waiting lists have not convinced the public.
More than two in five respondents blamed the Government for the increase in waiting lists for elective treatment in England, which have risen from 2.6million in 2010 to almost 7.7million.
This is almost three times the number who blame striking doctors (15 per cent), the union argued.
Professor Phil Banfield, the BMA chair of council, said: ‘Doctors are fed up of being told we are the problem with the NHS.’
He added: ‘It is not fair for the Government to continue to blame doctors or other healthcare workers for their own failure to properly resource the health service in England.
‘What we see today is that the public largely sees through that excuse.
‘Many more appointments and operations are cancelled outside the strike days because of a shortage of beds, staff or operating capacity due to the relative chronic underfunding.’
Consultants, junior doctors and radiographers will hold a rally at lunchtime on Tuesday near Manchester Central, which is hosting the Conservative party’s annual conference.
Hospital consultants yesterday urged Mr Sunak to let the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) get involved to try to bring an end to their pay dispute.
The BMA last month announced that specialist, associate specialist and specialty (SAS) doctors will hold an indicative ballot for industrial action.
These doctors work alongside junior doctors and consultants in hospitals, but some also work in the community.
Last month, BMA members in Scotland accepted the SNP Government’s offer of a 14.5 per cent pay increase for junior doctors and doctors in training over two years.
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