June 29, 2023 : Senior doctors in England’s public hospitals have voted to stage a two-day strike in July, adding to junior doctors’ existing five-day industrial action. The consultants, equivalent to attending physicians in the U.S., will walk out on July 20 and 21, resulting in the likely delay of routine appointments due to the lack of qualified staff to cover their specialized roles. According to Sir Julian Hartley, the head of NHS Providers, this “double whammy” of strikes poses a significant risk for hospital teams. Hartley called for the government and union leaders to find a resolution and prevent the strikes from happening.
The strikes in the U.K.’s healthcare sector have primarily revolved around pay issues, with union leaders arguing that salaries have not kept pace with inflation. They emphasize the need for better compensation to ensure a sustainable workforce capable of meeting the healthcare demands of an aging population. The upcoming strikes in July mark the eighth consecutive month of industrial action across the National Health Service (NHS). Over 651,000 routine operations and appointments have been postponed since December due to previous strikes, leading to significant patient delays.
Government ministers recently offered a pay deal that received mixed responses from health unions, with nurses and other staff still holding out for better terms. However, the possibility of further strikes from nurses appears to have diminished, as they failed to opt for additional strikes in a recent ballot. While local strikes by ambulance staff members of the Unite union remain possible, coordinated national action is no longer on the table for wider staff groups. Nevertheless, junior and senior doctors have secured a mandate to proceed with their respective walkouts.
The British Medical Association organizes both strikes, representing approximately 173,000 doctors and medical students. Over 86% of consultants who voted in the union’s ballot supported strike action, with nearly 21,000 senior doctors endorsing the decision. The union now has a six-month window to carry out the strikes. If the dispute remains unresolved beyond that period, another ballot will be required to continue the action.
While hospital trusts understand the doctors’ strong sentiments, they acknowledge the increasing challenges and costs of ensuring patient safety and minimizing disruptions during strikes. The Department of Health and Social Care urged the British Medical Association to carefully consider the potential impact on patients. The hope is that negotiations can occur to prevent the strikes and find a mutually agreeable resolution for all parties involved.