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Striking doctors threaten more summer walkouts if Labour echoes Tory ‘lies’ on NHS

SIR KEIR STARMER was warned today against repeating Rishi Sunak’s mistakes as 25,000 junior doctors began a five-day pay walkout across England, threatening further strike action this summer.

The British Medical Association (BMA) members hit out at the Labour leader’s “lies” over NHS funding as they staged their 11th walkout since March last year, including at the Friarage Hospital close to the Prime Minister’s constituency in North Yorkshire.

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting has said he would not grant the BMA’s demands for real-terms pay restoration in one go as it would mean any “trade union worth their salt” would ask for the same the following year.

But with the dispute now in its 20th month, BMA junior doctors committee co-chairman Rob Laurenson said: “Keir Starmer would do well not to repeat the mistakes of Rishi Sunak, and to empower his health secretary to negotiate in good faith.”

He welcomed Mr Streeting describing pay negotiations as a “journey, not an event,” saying the union was happy to negotiate a multi-year deal. 

But he added: “The truth of the matter is a doctor starts with £15 an hour and we are asking for doctors to be paid about £21 an hour — that is affordable.

“The government has spent £3 billion on strikes and pay restoration costs £1.3 billion — again if an incoming government under Keir Starmer wants to continue lying then it looks like strikes will have to continue as well.”

His committee co-chairman Dr Vivek Trivedi warned that as the current strike mandate ends on September 19, “if talks do not move in a timely manner, then of course our members would expect us to call for strike action.”

“We have had three 98 per cent Yes votes to our ballots for industrial action to restore their pay because they know, unfortunately, words don’t mean anything unless it’s written down and action is taken to achieve something,” he said.

Junior doctors in England have said their pay has been cut by more than a quarter over the last 15 years and have called for a 35 per cent increase to restore it to 2008 levels in real terms. 

By the end of their current action on July 2, they will have walked out for 44 days since their first action last March.

Today Sir Keir said he would open discussions with junior doctors on the first day of a Labour government if he is elected on July 4, telling reporters during a campaign visit to Staffordshire: “I don’t want these strikes to be going ahead.

“This is a problem the government has failed to deal with, and if we’re elected into government we will have to pick it up.

“What we will do is ensure on day one we start the discussion.”

Mr Streeting has said there is “space for a discussion” on pay, as well as negotiations on how to improve working conditions for medics in training.

Senior BMA members have meanwhile conceded the union had not pushed enough over the last 15 years, saying they had pinned their hopes on the independent pay review body, which sets the pay of doctors.

They praised the “WhatsApp generation” for their determination and ability to mobilise “instantaneously” using the messaging app.

BMA council chairman Professor Philip Banfield said: “It’s got to a point where doctors felt completely disempowered and what has happened is the juniors have got together and power of social media and WhatsApp, they started talking to each other and saying ‘You know what, enough is enough’.

“We have met with Labour several times over the last two years – we haven’t always agreed, we’ve had disagreements.

“So, do I expect the conversation to take place? Yes.

“Do I expect that conversation to be one that is easy or tough? It’ll be a tough conversation.”

Keep Our NHS Public co-chairman Dr John Puntis said: “Regardless of which party takes over government on July 5, it cannot hope for a well-functioning NHS without showing due care for employees by committing to pay restoration.

“With many leaving for other jobs or moving to countries where pay and conditions are far superior, staff are voting with their feet and waiting lists will lengthen even further.

“We shouldn’t even be having this debate. It is not the least bit unreasonable to expect highly skilled individuals with many years of university training and responsible for making life and death decisions to be paid £20 an hour.”

NHS Providers chief executive Sir Julian Hartley said that it was vital the next government and junior doctors “reset industrial relationships and prevent any more walkouts.”

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