The British Medical Association (BMA) has launched a re-ballot of hospital consultants to extend their mandate for strike action until June next year.
The union said that ‘productive and intensive talks’ between the consultants committee and the Government began last week, after ministers agreed to meet with the committee in the hope to find a resolution to the pay dispute.
While these talks are still underway, ‘no credible offer’ has been put on the table thus far and progress has been ‘insufficient to change plans to launch the re-ballot‘.
However, the committee did state that it will not be announcing new strike dates while the talks are ongoing. The consultants’ current mandate for strike action ends on 26 December.
Ahead of the first consultants ballot, the BMA said consultants were effectively working four months of the year for free based on a 35% decline in take-home pay since 2008/9.
Dr Vishal Sharma, the BMA’s consultants committee chair, said: ‘We gave the Government a month to get back around the table. Whilst it’s been incredibly frustrating that the Government didn’t respond until a few days before the deadline, we have now commenced talks.
‘These discussions have been constructive and are ongoing. Therefore, given our willingness to resolve this dispute we are not announcing further strike dates right now – but reserve the right to do so if necessary.
‘Our re-ballot begins today as planned as it’s vital that, even during these negotiations, we continue to have a legal mandate to call more industrial action if they break down.
‘Neither the Government nor senior doctors themselves want consultants to be on strike – we’d both much rather we were in hospitals seeing patients.
‘To prevent further strikes we need the Government to commit to fix pay now and for the future, only then can we not only resolve this dispute, but retain the NHS’s most expert clinicians at a time they’re needed most.’
A separate formal ballot of specialist, associate specialist and specialty (SAS) doctors has also been launched.
Following informal talks with Government and results from an indicative ballot for SAS doctors – in which 88% of respondents would be prepared to strike over worsening pay and working conditions – the BMA’s SAS committee accepted the invitation for formal negotiations.
SAS doctors have seen their pay fall by up to 31% in real terms since 2008/09, according to the BMA. The union is therefore seeking an above-inflationary uplift for this year and meaningful steps to start addressing longer term pay erosion, as well as improvements to SAS doctors’ working conditions and career progression.
Highlighting the disappointment that the Government has yet to present a credible offer, SAS committee chair Dr Ujjwala Anand Mohite said: ‘Whilst talks continue to progress we are clearly still somewhat short of the credible offer we are asking Government for.
‘We are therefore asking SAS doctors to give us the mandate for action, should we need it because the current round of talks fail.
‘SAS doctors have made it very clear that we do not want to strike, we want to work and care for our patients, but we can no longer ignore the profession’s ever-growing pay and working conditions concerns – it’s driving doctors out of our health service and leaving those of us who remain with an unmanageable workload all while feeling undervalued and burnt out.
‘Industrial action is our absolute last resort, and we remain hopeful that we’ll receive a credible offer as talks continue.
‘It is in the Government’s gift to find a resolution before Christmas and avoid strike action; patients and our NHS are relying on our leaders to do so.’
Both ballots began on 6 November 2023 and close on 18 December. If successful, the mandates will run until 17 June 2024.
Previously, NHS England bosses had urged the Government to urgently resume talks with consultants ahead of winter.
In a formal warning letter, NHS England told the BMA that ‘cumulative’ impact of consultant and junior doctor strikes were causing ‘significant disruption and risk to patients’.