Doctors in England start longest strike in NHS history

Doctors in England start longest strike in NHS history

LONDON: Hospital doctors in England on Wednesday (Jan 3) began their longest straight strike in the seven-decade history of Britain’s National Health Service (NHS).

Junior doctors – those below consultant level – started a six-day walkout, in a big escalation of their long-running pay dispute with the UK government.

The industrial action comes at one of the busiest times of the year for the state-funded NHS, when it faces extra pressure from winter respiratory illnesses.

It also quickly follows a three-day strike held by doctors just before Christmas.

The NHS said the latest stoppage, which could see up to half of the medical staff on picket lines, would have “a significant impact on almost all routine care”.

“This January could be one of the most difficult starts to the year the NHS has ever faced,” said its national medical head, Stephen Powis.

The strike is set to end at 7am next Tuesday.

The British Medical Association (BMA) announced the walkout in December after a breakdown in talks with the government.

The group said junior doctors have been offered a 3.0-per cent rise on top of the average 8.8-per cent increase they were given earlier this year.

It refused the offer because the cash would be split unevenly across different doctor grades and would “still amount to pay cuts for many doctors”.

Junior doctors have gone on strike at least seven times since March.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and hospital leaders have criticised the move.

“SIGNIFICANT”

Health policy is a devolved matter for the administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, with the UK government managing England.

Junior doctors in Wales are set to walk out for 72 hours from Jan 15.

Those in Northern Ireland have voted for possible strike action.

Their Scottish peers have struck a deal with the government in Edinburgh.

The NHS usually sees a rise in the number of people in hospital in the two weeks after Christmas, due to people delaying seeking treatment in order to spend the festive season with loved ones.

The service is already having huge backlogs in waiting times for appointments and surgery, blamed on treatment postponement during COVID-19 but also years of under-funding.

Julian Hartley, the chief executive of NHS Providers which represents hospital groups in England, said the effect of the strikes on patients would be “significant”.

“The vast majority of planned operations, appointments, and so on, will have to be stood down,” he told BBC television.

Consultants will cover for junior doctors and emergency and urgent care such as maternity and intensive care services will be running.

But there are fears that COVID-19, flu and other seasonal conditions could also hit hiring.

“We’re deeply concerned about the kind of impact over the coming days,” said Hartley.

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