NHS medics vow to strike ‘until next general election and beyond’ as consultants and junior doctors rally outside Tory party conference

Striking NHS doctors have pledged to take to picket lines for at least another 14 months in a bid for more pay.

Thousands of junior medics and consultants, who are staging a joint 72-hour walkout, have travelled to Manchester to coincide with the Tory party conference.

Professor Philip Banfield, council chair of the British Medical Association, which is coordinating the action, said NHS staff are prepared to strike until the next general election, expected by December 2024, ‘and beyond’ to secure a bigger pay rise.

Ministers have repeatedly refused to accept demands from the BMA to give both groups bigger pay outs during a cost-of-living crisis. Rishi Sunak today argued doctors were offered ‘more than anyone else in the public sector and they refused’. 

In a speech, Professor Banfield urged the Prime Minister to make a ‘credible’ pay offer to end the dispute. Junior doctors have demanded 35 per cent while consultants have called for 11 per cent.

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

As part of the unprecedented walk-out, junior doctors and consultants are only offer ‘Xmas Day’ levels of staffing until 7am Thursday. Pictured, junior doctors and consultants from the British Medical Association (BMA) protesting outside the Conservative Party annual conference in Manchester

Professor Banfield said he is confident that the BMA will get a mandate from members to continue industrial action.

He said: ‘The members have been unequivocal and they are incredibly organised and really determined.

‘They feel that this is a once-in-a-generation time to alter the future for doctors, and for patients. We just cannot put up any longer with driving doctors at all levels away.

‘It is not just disappointing, it’s completely ridiculous that a Government with responsibility for a health service is treating its experts in this way.’

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.

As part of the unprecedented walk-out, both consultants and junior doctors will only offer ‘Christmas Day’ levels of staffing until 7am Thursday, meaning only emergency care is unaffected. 

Vivek Trivedi, co-chair of the BMA’s junior doctors committee, said he finds it ‘surprising’ the Government is ‘still unwilling’ to negotiate.

‘Ultimately, we know what the effects of year-on-year pay cuts are to our workforce’s morale, retention, and now actually even recruitment,’ he said.

‘If the Government wants to have any sort of workforce in the future to be able to treat patients in a timely manner, then we need to do something to fix that. It’s just so surprising that they’re still unwilling to talk about how we can end this dispute.’

Strikes have been ongoing in the NHS since December 2022, leading to the cancellation or postponement of almost 1.1million appointments. 

Waiting lists for elective treatment on the NHS currently stand at a record 7.7million.

Mr Trivedi said the disruption to appointments is ‘wholly the Government’s fault’.

He said: ‘It was completely within their power to stop any strike action from ever happening if they had just treated our profession with respect and came to the table at the start to negotiate and put an offer on the table.’

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has insisted strikes are the ‘number one reason’ for record NHS waiting times.

Asked this morning 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?’

Mr Sunak defended his spending on the NHS, adding: ‘We’ve behaved entirely correctly, entirely reasonably.’

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 told the Tory Party Conference 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

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. Pictured protesting medics outside the Conservative Party annual conference in Manchester

Hospitals are being brought to a standstill because of joint 72-hour action by junior doctors and consultants. Pictured striking doctors  from the BMA demonstrating outside the Conservative Party annual conference

‘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.

‘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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