Senior doctors in England will begin voting on Monday whether to strike in the ongoing dispute over pay in the NHS.
Chair of the British Medical Association (BMA) consultants committee Dr Vishal Sharma said talks had been held with the government in a bid to resolve the long-running row, but pay talks remain in deadlock.
Dr Sharma said doctors’ take-home pay had declined by 35% since 2008/09, adding that the government’s offer amounts to a real-terms pay cut because inflation is so high.
Speaking on behalf of consultants, he said: “We have seen our take-home pay decline by 35% since 2008/9 and this is even before the impact of this year’s soaring inflation has been considered.
“As a result of this, consultants are now effectively working four months of the year for free. Even as late as this weekend, we remained hopeful that we would secure a pay offer that went some way toward making up for the decline we have seen.
“Unfortunately however, given that inflation remains in double digits, the final offer from government represented yet another real-terms pay cut.
“On the back of 15 years of our pay declining, we simply could not accept a deal that continued this downward trend and have been left with no option but to proceed today with the ballot for industrial action.”
Dr Sharma stressed that consultants did not want to take industrial action but will take “the necessary steps” to restore their pay. He added: “Ultimately the government made a political choice to cut our pay again this year and unless we can secure a commitment that the government will take the necessary steps to restore our pay over the long term, we simply cannot accept an offer that sees our pay fall even further.”
The strike ballot is open from Monday (15 May) until Tuesday 27 June and the BMA is urging its members to vote yes.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We hugely value the work of NHS consultants and they received a 4.5% pay uplift last financial year, increasing average earnings to around £128,000.
“They will also benefit from generous changes to pension taxation announced at Budget and are eligible to apply for additional financial awards worth up to £40,000 a year as part of the NHS consultant contract.
“We urge the BMA to carefully consider the likely impact of any action on patients.”
Nursing union demands further pay talks
It comes as the head of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) called on the government to restart pay negotiations with a proposed rise in double digits.
The RCN was one of the two unions to turn down the government’s recent pay offer to NHS staff, despite previously recommending a lower offer.
Pat Cullen, general secretary of the RCN, advised members to accept an offer of 5%, but members voted to reject it. Union members will today gather in Brighton as the long-running dispute continues.
Union members will begin a new ballot for strike action on 23 May after the existing six-month mandate ran out at the start of the month.
A Department of Health spokesperson said the government’s pay offer was “fair” and that there were “no plans to reopen negotiations on this deal”.