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Majority of public want doctor pay talks reopened

The majority of the public believe the government should reopen pay talks with doctors and use the funds associated with covering industrial action to settle the pay dispute, according to a new BMA survey.

The majority of the public believe the government should reopen pay talks with doctors and use the funds associated with covering industrial action to settle the pay dispute, according to a new BMA survey.

The survey asked members of the public how they thought the government should have used the money spent on strikes so far, which is estimated to be £1bn in extra cover. Over 63% of respondents said the government should have used that money to pay doctors and settle the dispute.

The survey was conducted by Walnut Unlimited on behalf of the BMA between the 12th and 14th September 2023. The survey was conducted online, interviewing a nationally representative sample of 1765 of adults in England.

The results come as 24 hours of coordinated strike action between junior doctors and consultants in England gets under way. It also follows a third group of hospital doctors in England voting to hold an indicative ballot for strike action, after the government failed to present them with an offer to urgently improve their pay and working conditions.

The decision was made at a meeting of the Specialist, Associate Specialist and Specialty doctors (SAS) UK committee, which had previously warned it would move forward with an indicative ballot if the government did not produce an offer that meaningfully addressed concerns around pay, career progression and working conditions.

SAS doctors are senior and highly skilled healthcare professionals who, for many different reasons, decided not to follow the traditional consultant or GP pathway. The majority work in hospitals, alongside junior doctors and consultants, but some also work in the community.

Public is as keen for the government re-open talks with doctors

The public was also asked, “How important or unimportant do you believe it is that the government re-opens talks with the BMA? 70% of respondents said it was important or very important. Another 43% of those asked in the survey believe the government is giving too little attention to issues around doctors pay.

Consultants began their latest round of strike action yesterday, and today is a coordinated day of action from junior doctors and consultants in England, with “Christmas Day” cover, from both groups. Junior doctors will continue their strike with a full walkout until Saturday of this week with consultants return to work. A further three days of joint action are planned for next month.

BMA consultants committee chair Dr Vishal Sharma said:  “It is beyond doubt, from this survey, that patients and the public want to see the government working with doctors to bring an end to industrial action. We have been asking for months for negotiations to reopen and for the government to put an offer on the table. The fact that there have been some constructive conversations with government representatives is encouraging but it is crucial that formal talks commence and that the government provides us with a credible offer that we can put to our members.

“We do not want to strike. We want to be on wards, in operating theatres and in clinics with our patients – the same patients that may well have taken part in this opinion poll. This survey shows those patients, and the wider public would far rather the government got back round the table with us. We can only hope ministers listen and recognise the strength of feeling – from the public as well as doctors – that we can move towards a resolution of this dispute if the government would agree to resume formal negotiations with the BMA.”

Strike impact cannot be overestimated

NHS National Medical Director Professor Sir Stephen Powis said: “The NHS is set to experience the equivalent of five ‘Christmas Days’ in the next three weeks, where many routine services and appointments may not be delivered. While colleagues are working hard to ensure we keep patients safe and prioritise emergency and critical care, the collective impact of this on patients and staff cannot be overestimated.

“The level of ongoing disruption to services caused by many thousands of rescheduled appointments is an enormous challenge, and we’re very grateful to the public for using the NHS wisely during this unprecedented period by using 999 in life-threatening situations and 111 online and community services like pharmacies and GPs for everything else.”


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