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Tories ‘burying heads in sand’ on NHS strikes

Number of cancelled appointments surpasses one million as ministers continue to refuse to talk

THE Tories were accused of “burying their heads in the sand” by refusing to talk to striking doctors today as the number of cancelled appointments surpassed a million.

Amanda Pritchard, chief executive of NHS England, said today that industrial action has become “normalised” as the bitter dispute between the government and doctors from the British Medical Association (BMA) shows no sign of resolution.

In a message to healthcare leaders across England after last week’s first ever joint strike by junior doctors and consultants, she wrote: “I know for providers in particular last week was another very challenging one dealing with industrial action.

“Colleagues displayed heroic effort again last week, and there will be little, if any, downtime before planning starts for the next round of action.”

NHS Providers, which represents NHS trusts, estimated today that the country will reach the “damaging and demoralising” new milestone of a million appointments cancelled due to strike action.

Deputy chief executive Saffron Cordery said: “The immediate concern has to be with patients – more than a million and counting – whose care or treatment has been delayed.

“With the official tally of figures capturing those procedures and appointments that we know are rescheduled, thousands more patients will be affected because trusts are simply not booking in care for strike days known well in advance.

“Behind every delay there is a real and human cost. How many more reasons are needed for an end to the dispute?”

Industrial action began in December 2022, and further joint strikes by junior doctors and consultants are planned next week on October 2, 3 and 4 in England.

BMA council chairman Professor Phil Banfield said: “The last thing we ever want is to cause further disruption to the patients in our care and I am extremely sorry that it has come to this.

“But these strikes are about the long-term sustainability of the NHS and ensuring there are trained doctors around to care for all patients in the future.

“The longer the government buries its head in the sand, the more both strikes and waiting lists cost the public purse.

“It’s a no-brainer to invest in the future of the NHS workforce rather than waste further money refusing to pitch a credible pay offer.”

And Keep Our NHS Public co-chair Dr John Puntis told the Morning Star: “Health workers have also been taking strike action in many other European countries, and the World Health Organisation is emphasising the long term importance of investing in and supporting the workforce across health and care.

“Government must bear responsibility for the current situation, with huge numbers of empty posts as a consequence of low pay, poor conditions and lack of long term planning.

“A significant pay rise would help address the problem of staff retention and would have an immediate effect.

“The public agree that the current dispute with doctors cannot be resolved unless negotiations take place, and that government is neglecting its responsibility to find a way out of the current impasse with the result that patients are suffering.”

The Department of Health and Social Care said: “The co-ordinated action next week will create further unacceptable disruption for patients and fellow NHS staff.”

It said, as per the “independent” pay review body’s recommendations, doctors who started their hospital training this year are receiving a 10.3 per cent pay increase, with the average junior doctor getting 8.8 per cent. Consultants will receive a 6 per cent rise.

“This pay award is final, and the majority of unions representing over one million other NHS workers have accepted our offer and called off further strike action,” added the department.

But the BMA insists that ministers must set out a pathway to pay restoration — pointing out pay has fallen in real terms by 35 per cent since 2008-9.

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