April 23, 2024

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The NHS England chief warns of escalating strike disruption.

The head of NHS England has expressed concern over the upcoming strikes in July, warning that they could have the most severe impact on patients. Amanda Pritchard highlighted the significant disruption caused by previous industrial actions across the NHS and emphasized that it is the patients who bear the brunt of these disruptions. The forthcoming strikes by junior doctors and consultants, spanning a combined seven days, are expected to present a unique and heightened challenge.

Junior doctors recently voted for their longest strike to date, spanning five days in mid-July, after rejecting a government pay offer. Following the conclusion of this strike, hospital consultants in England will then strike on July 20 and 21 in protest against pay-related issues. Negotiators for both groups have been advocating for a 35% pay increase to compensate for 15 years of below-inflation increases. However, the government has deemed this figure unaffordable and has only offered junior doctors a 5% rise, which they declined. No offer has been presented to consultants thus far.

Throughout this year, the health service has been plagued by strike actions involving doctors, nurses, ambulance workers, and porters, primarily over pay disputes. Although a breakthrough occurred in May with a deal to grant a 5% pay rise to all NHS staff except doctors and dentists, junior doctors and hospital consultants remain at an impasse with the government.

Ms. Pritchard acknowledged that it would take several years before the health sector reaches an acceptable level and emphasised the NHS’s efforts to reduce waiting lists. She expressed the urgency to end the industrial action, as it cannot become the norm in the NHS. Additionally, she discussed NHS England’s new 15-year workforce plan, aimed at training and retaining more staff to alleviate the pressure caused by the current high vacancy rates.

Lord Bethell, a former Conservative health minister, also participated in the discussion, describing the current approach to treatment in the NHS as “rationing.”