The Health Secretary has said it is “incredibly disappointing” that junior doctors have not called off next week’s “hugely disruptive” three-day strike.
Junior doctors in the British Medical Association (BMA) on Saturday rejected Steve Barclay’s offer for pay talks, on the basis they cancelled the industrial action, and accused him of “a feeble attempt to stall us”.
The 72-hour strike from Monday is expected to have a bigger impact than any action by health unions since December, with junior doctors across England expected to withdraw from A&E departments, cancer care, maternity, and planned care.
He said the 35% pay rise demanded by the union for junior doctors was “simply unaffordable”, “costing around an extra £2 billion to the taxpayer at a time when we’re making real progress on our promise to halve inflation”.
Mr Barclay invited the BMA junior doctors for pay talks on Friday night, but they rebuffed his offer the next day, saying they were disappointed by the “offer of talks being made so late, and with preconditions that would be completely unacceptable to our members”.
The Health Secretary wrote: “It is incredibly disappointing that unions declined my offer. I urge them to come to the negotiating table.”
He also criticised the BMA for demanding “eye-wateringly high” rates for consultants who provide cover on strike days.
In an earlier letter to Mr Barclay, co-chairs of the BMA’s junior doctors committee, Dr Vivek Trivedi and Dr Robert Laurenson, wrote: “We remain open to entering talks with Government anytime and anywhere to bring this dispute to a swift resolution and restore the pay that junior doctors have lost.
“We would encourage you to reconsider the preconditions that are currently preventing talks from taking place.
“As you have known for more than two weeks, our strikes will commence on Monday. And you also know, until we have a credible offer, we are not in a position to call them off.”
They also described Mr Barclay’s 11th-hour offer as “a feeble attempt to stall us, to kick the can down the road, to delay an actual meaningful conversation”.
Unions representing ambulance workers, physiotherapists, nurses and midwives have been in talks with the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) since Tuesday.
But the discussions have not involved BMA junior doctors.
NHS Providers chief executive Sir Julian Hartley said: “It is deeply disappointing that even at this late stage there is no real prospect of meaningful talks between the Government and the British Medical Association to avert the forthcoming industrial action.
“This is a setback for the NHS. The people who will suffer will be patients facing yet more disruption, and staff whose morale will take a further hit.”
Dr Laurenson and Dr Trivedi told The Times that doctors were willing to keep striking until they got “full pay restoration” — a 35% rise — and future strikes could last longer than 72 hours.
They also pledged to re-ballot members if their demand for pay restoration to 2008 levels has not been achieved when the union’s current six-month strike mandate runs out in August.