Junior doctors must reach a deal with the Government that delivers for both patients and taxpayers, Rishi Sunak said. The Prime Minister spoke out as the 96-hour strike by members of the British Medical Association union brought chaos to NHS services for a second day.
The BMA claims junior doctors in England have seen a 26 percent real-terms pay cut since 2008-09, as pay rises have been below inflation. Its medics are seeking a 35 percent pay rise, which ministers insist is unaffordable.
Speaking in Belfast, Mr Sunak said: “I’m focused on making sure we get the right outcome for patients and taxpayers. I think the Government has got a track record in showing that it can get round the table and find reasonable compromise and a way through these difficult situations, as we’ve already done with several other health unions.
“We are happy to talk about pay settlements that are reasonable, that are fair, that are affordable for the taxpayer and allow us to continue delivering on our promise to halve inflation.”
Mr Sunak also said that he was “surprised to read” that Dr Robert Laurenson, 28, who co-chairs the BMA’s junior doctors committee, had taken a week off to attend a wedding as his colleagues manned picket lines.
Previous talks between Health Secretary Steve Barclay and the BMA failed after both sides accused the other of seeking to impose unreasonable pre-conditions. All have called for conciliation service Acas to step in.
Up to 350,000 operations are set to be cancelled during the four-day strike. Hospital chiefs are also concerned about night shift staffing and have warned some A&E services may have to close if they become overwhelmed.
NHS Confederation chief executive Matthew Taylor said: “The national situation continues to be fragile, not least because the strikes follow the Easter weekend when more NHS staff tend to be on leave.
“We continue to urge the Government and unions to resume talks to find a way through this damaging impasse. For the sake of patients, we have called for the BMA and Mr Barclay to engage with Acas over the dispute.”
Acas chief executive Susan Clews said: “We have a team of experts who are well prepared and ready to help.”
BMA council chairman Prof Philip Banfield said: “We urge the Health Secretary to show the same willingness we have and make himself available and open to talks facilitated by Acas.”
The BMA has revoked an agreement for seven doctors to return to work at Weston General Hospital, Somerset.
Tuesday’s exemption followed an urgent request by the trust for help. But the union later said it has been “misled” about the level of cover available.