Union leaders demand a boost for junior doctors in England

Health union leaders on Thursday demanded the government provide “full pay restoration” for junior doctors in England as ministers stepped up their efforts to avert further strikes by NHS workers.

Health secretary Steve Barclay met leaders of the British Medical Association, which is calling on the government to reverse what it estimates is a 26.1 per cent fall in junior doctors’ salaries in real terms since 2008-09.

It came as the Welsh government proposed a one-off payment to NHS staff for the current financial year, in a move that will heap pressure on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to follow suit in England.

Trade unions are demanding that ministers increase NHS workers’ pay for 2022-23, or face prolonged strikes by nurses and ambulance staff in a health service already struggling with acute winter pressures linked to high levels of flu and Covid-19 infections.

A total of 14 health unions have also said they will boycott an independent review body that will make recommendations to the government on NHS staff pay in the UK for 2023-24.

The BMA is not boycotting, but junior doctors represented by the union are poised to walk out for 72 hours in March if a majority vote in favor of strikes in a ballot.

Professor Philip Banfield, chair of council at the BMA, said he reiterated to Barclay in Thursday’s meeting the need to boost pay and address the “haemorrhage of staff” within the NHS workforce.

“We went into the meeting to discuss the pay review body and we came out of the meeting having laid out our stall and making it very clear the state of the NHS and that, really, the pay dispute with the junior doctors has to include some form of addressing full-pay restoration,” added Banfield.

Others present at the meeting with Barclay included the British Dental Association and the Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association.

Dr Paul Donaldson, general secretary of the HCSA, described the meeting as “civil” but stressed that there had been “no movement on anything to do with pay”.

One government official described Barclay’s meeting as “good and constructive”, with the health secretary “keen to engage” with topics raised by unions including pay, morale, workforce retention and training costs.

“There was an openness on all sides to look at reform opportunities in the wider discussion about [pay and its] affordability,” said one Barclay ally.

The meeting came as the latest figures from NHS England revealed ambulance response times and patient waits in hospital accident and emergency departments were at record levels in December.

The GMB union said it was considering setting dates for further strikes by ambulance workers.

Meanwhile, the Labour-run Welsh government put forward a one-off payment to NHS staff in Wales at a meeting with union leaders in Cardiff.

Details of the payment were not immediately disclosed, but the move is aimed at ending the Welsh government’s dispute with unions over NHS pay.

Train company bosses were due to meet the RMT and TSSA unions on Thursday in a fresh round of talks to try to reach a pay deal to avoid further strikes on the railways.

Executives are preparing to table a new offer after unions rejected a proposal for an 8 per cent pay rise over two years, tied to workplace reforms, according to people briefed on the matter.

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS union, said a meeting with Cabinet Office minister Jeremy Quinn on Thursday had been a “total farce” because there was no offer for civil servants of improved pay for 2022-23.

The PCS has announced plans for a strike on February 1 by 100,000 members in more than 120 government departments and other public bodies.

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