Junior doctors to stage 72-hour strike in England as BMA says Health Secretary left them ‘no choice’

Junior doctors in England will strike for three days in March

Junior doctors in England will strike for three days next month in the dispute over pay, the British Medical Association (BMA) has announced.

The 72-hour strike will take place from Monday 13 March, with the BMA saying the failure of the Health Secretary to negotiate a reversal of pay cuts of more than 26% has left medics with no option but to take industrial action.

Almost 40,000 junior doctors voted to take industrial action in the recent ballot and hospital trusts and employers have now been notified that the 72-hour walk out will go ahead.

Junior doctors in England will strike for three days in March (Photo: Getty Images)
Junior doctors in England will strike for three days in March (Photo: Getty Images)
Junior doctors in England will strike for three days in March (Photo: Getty Images)

Twice in the past week junior doctors have called on Steve Barclay to meet with them urgently, but the BMA said so far no date is forthcoming. A meeting with Department of Health Civil servants earlier this week also failed to achieve any meaningful progress and Mr Barclay refused to attend.

The co-chairs of the BMA junior doctors’ committee, Dr Rob Laurenson and Dr Vivek Trivedi, said patients and public alike need to know the blame for the strike action lies squarely at the government’s door.

They said: “Make no mistake, this strike was absolutely in the government’s gift to avert; they know it, we know it and our patients also need to know it. We have tried, since last summer, to get each Health Secretary we have had, round the negotiating table.

“We have written many times and even as late as yesterday we were hopeful Steve Barclay would recognise the need to meet with us to find a workable solution that could have averted this strike. We have not been told why we have not been offered intensive negotiations nor what we need to do for the government to begin negotiations with us. We are left with no option but to proceed with this action.

“The fact that so many junior doctors in England have voted yes for strike action should leave Ministers in absolutely no doubt what we have known for a long time and have been trying to tell them, we are demoralised, angry and no longer willing to work for wages that have seen a real terms decline of over 26% in the past 15 years. This, together with the stress and exhaustion of working in an NHS in crisis, has brought us to this moment, brought us to a 72-hour walk out.

“How in all conscience can the Health Secretary continue to put his head in the sand and hope that by not meeting with us, this crisis of his government’s making, will somehow just disappear? It won’t, and patients and the public will continue to feel the brunt of his inaction, until he starts to negotiate with us and we agree a deal that truly values junior doctors and pays us what we are worth.”

Almost 37,000 votes were cast among BMA members on Monday (20 February) and 98% of those were in favour of strike action – the largest ever turnout for a ballot of doctors by the BMA and a record number of junior doctors voting for strike action.

The 25-year-old said the overwhelming vote is a sign of the “desperation” staff are feeling, adding: “It’s definitely a sign of desperation and it’s definitely a sign that this is felt throughout the system.

“It doesn’t just depend on what hospital you’re at or what trust you work for – it really shows that no matter where you are, it’s an issue everywhere.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “We’re building a sustainable NHS with patients at its centre – backed by up to £14.1 billion for health and social care over the next two years, on top of record funding.

“There are record numbers of staff working in the NHS including over 4,800 more doctors compared to last year. We know there is more to do and we will publish a long-term workforce plan in spring focused on recruiting and retaining more staff.

“We’re also supporting junior doctors with access to 40 nationwide mental health and wellbeing hubs, which help frontline staff access rapid assessments and support. We hugely value the work of junior doctors and it is deeply disappointing some union members have voted for strike action.

“As part of a multi-year deal we agreed with the BMA, junior doctors pay has increased by a cumulative 8.2% since 2019/20. We also introduced a higher pay band for the most experienced staff and increased rates for night shifts.”