A formal ballot of specialist, associate specialist and specialty (SAS) doctors in England, and a re-ballot of consultants to extend their industrial action mandate, both launched November 6 as talks between representatives from the BMA and Government over how to resolve both pay disputes continue.
Following informal talks with Government and results from the indicative ballot for SAS doctors– which found 88% of respondents would be prepared to strike over worsening pay and working conditions – the BMA’s SAS committee accepted the invitation for formal negotiations.
While a credible offer has not yet been put forward, the committee says there is opportunity to move towards a deal as talks continue and avoid a third group of doctors undertaking industrial action.
Dr Ujjwala Anand Mohite, BMA SAS committee chair, said:
“It’s disappointing that despite Government inviting us to talks it has failed to present us with a credible offer. Whilst 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 that 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.”
Meanwhile, following the BMA’s consultants committee inviting the Government to meet a month ago, productive and intensive talks began last week after four weeks’ delay from the Government. Whilst progress so far has been insufficient to change plans to launch the re-ballot today, with these talks ongoing, the BMA’s consultants committee will not be announcing new strike dates at present.
Dr Vishal Sharma, BMA consultants committee chair, said:
“We gave the Government a month to get back around the table. Whilst it’s been incredibly frustrating that 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.
“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.”
Both the ballot of SAS doctors and re-ballot of consultants in England begin yesterday (6 November) and close on 18 December, giving mandates until June next year.