Rishi Sunak will hold crucial talks with health leaders in Downing Street on Saturday in a bid to resolve the crisis affecting the NHS.
More than a quarter of ambulance patients waited more than an hour to be admitted to A&E last week as hospitals face one of the toughest winters on record, exacerbated by a heavy flu season, a spike in covid casesand staff and bed shortages.
Y Junior doctors have threatened to go on strike for three consecutive days. in March, which would leave emergency rooms without tens of thousands of employees.
The prime minister will convene a meeting of the “best minds”, including NHS bosses, senior doctors and private providers, to try to tackle the chaos.
The summit will focus on the emergency care crisis, which doctors have warned is contributing to up to 500 deaths per weekand in social care, where the lack of provision is causing a bottleneck in hospitals waiting to discharge patients.
Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting questioned why Mr Sunak had taken so long to act, commenting that “patients deserve more than a talk”.
The proposed 72-hour strike by the young doctors would be the latest escalation in a series of labor disputes between health service staff and the government. Health leaders have called on the government to meet with union leaders in an effort to prevent further disruption.
The British Medical Association (BMA) said it would vote its 45,000 junior doctors on Monday on whether to take industrial action. Young doctors have suffered a pay cut in real terms of more than a quarter in the last 15 years, which, combined with harsh working conditions, has pushed them out of the profession en masse.
“Wage erosion, burnout and despair are forcing young doctors to leave the NHS, pushing waiting lists even higher as patients suffer needlessly,” Dr Vivek Trivedi and Dr. Robert Laurenson, co-chairs of the BMA Young Physicians Committee. . “The government’s refusal to address fifteen years of wage erosion has left trainee doctors with no choice but to vote for industrial action. If the government does not fight for our health service, we will”.
Operations and outpatient appointments are likely to be canceled by the tens of thousands if young doctors vote to strike, while maternity, emergency and intensive care services may also be disrupted. Two days of nursing strikes last month led to the cancellation of 30,000 surgeries and appointments.
The BMA said it would give NHS ministers and trusts enough time to prepare for any strike action. But representatives of the health services said the threat of mass strikes without emergency coverage was “deeply worrying.”
Miriam Deakin, acting deputy chief executive and director of policy and strategy at NHS Providers, said: “If young doctors vote for industrial action, trusted leaders will do everything they can to minimize disruption and prioritize the safe delivery of care and services for patients.
“Trusted leaders are very concerned about the possibility of a prolonged or coordinated strike by health unions in the coming months. They also understand the factors that have led young doctors and other health workers to vote for industrial action.
“We reiterate our call on both the government and the union leaders to meet and find an agreed solution, including on salary matters, as soon as possible. Long acting is something everyone wants to avoid.”
Union leaders said the government was thwarting attempts to start negotiations and accused Steve Barclay, the health secretary, of ignoring invitations to meet with representatives of young doctors.
During a visit to Watford General Hospital on Friday, the health secretary said he was “eager to talk” with the nursing union, but did not directly respond to questions about whether he would accept their latest pledge of a 10 percent pay increase. hundred. .
Barclay spoke with doctors in the hospital’s A&E department during a tour with reporters, before speaking privately with patients.
Young doctors, those who are qualified but in training, have not been on strike since 2016, when they went on strike for the first time in history over a government move to increase their hours without a pay increase. In a 2018 agreement, the junior doctors agreed to an 8.2% pay increase over four years.
This year’s NHS pay review did not offer young doctors a raise on this deal, leading the BMA to complain that the pressures of the pandemic, coupled with skyrocketing inflation, warranted a new deal.
The BMA echoed the complaints of NHS workers who recently went on strike.
The nurses, who made the historic decision to strike for two days in December and will strike again later this month, have called for a pay increase of five percentage points above inflation to remedy years of cuts in real terms.
Paramedics and other ambulance workers, who also took two days off last month and will do so again in the coming weeks, are also demanding above-inflation wage increases.
The latest strike threat comes when Mr. Sunak prepares to introduce legislation that would enforce minimum service levels in the health service, as well as in five other key sectors, a move unions are preparing to challenge in court.
A Downing Street spokesperson said: “As the Prime Minister made clear this week, easing immediate pressures while also focusing on the long-term improvement of the NHS is one of his key promises.
“That’s why we’re bringing together the best minds from the health and care sectors to help share knowledge and practical solutions so we can address the most crucial challenges, like late discharge and emergency care.
“We want to correct the unwarranted variation in NHS performance between local areas, because no matter where you live, you should be able to access quality healthcare.”