In a disagreement over salary and working conditions, doctors employed by England’s public health service on Tuesday began what has been dubbed the most disruptive strike in the service’s history.
The four-day strike, which started at 7:00 am (0600 GMT), comes after months of other public and private sector employees going on strike as a result of inflation, which is causing the UK’s biggest cost-of-living crisis in a generation.
Following a three-day stoppage last month and multiple nurse strikes, so-called junior doctors—physicians who are not senior specialists but may yet have years of experience—took action.
Thousands of appointments could be canceled as a result of what could be the biggest major walkout to date.
They are demanding a pay rise of 35 percent, which they say is needed to help make up for more than a decade of salary cuts in real terms.
Additionally, they contend that personnel shortages and pandemic backlogs are dramatically raising workloads and putting patients in peril.
Junior doctor Katrina Forsyth stated, “We have had a significant (pay) drop and we are filling more gaps because people are leaving,” adding that she occasionally cries after shifts.
After working a night shift at St. Thomas’ Hospital in London, she remarked from a picket line, “It’s getting less safe for patients.”
Notwithstanding ministers’ efforts to temper pay increases across the public sector due to slow growth and high inflation, the government continues to assert that the BMA’s request is unaffordable.
After slowing for three straight months, the Consumer Prices Index shot up to 10.4 percent in February — close to 40-year highs and more than five times the target set by the Bank of England.
The BMA’s demand for a 35 percent wage increase is excessive, according to Health Secretary Steve Barclay, who had intended to start formal salary negotiations with the organization last month.
“We can resume private negotiations and find a solution, as we have done with other unions, provided the BMA is willing to dramatically change its stance and call off strikes.”
Barclay agreed to a salary raise of 5% last month with unions that represent a range of healthcare professionals, including nurses.
Currently, union members are voting on whether or not to adopt it.
Official statistics indicate that junior doctors, who make up about half of all NHS doctors, are not covered by the agreement.
Intense strains will be placed on the service as a result of their most recent strike, NHS England’s medical director Stephen Powis said.
He said on BBC radio, “This is a substantial set of industrial action that’s going to cause major inconvenience.”
The NHS in England is impacted by the strike, but not in other parts of the UK.
According to the NHS Confederation, which represents the system in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, up to a quarter of a million appointments may be postponed.
British media has also stated that family doctors will not be accepting new patients for up to a week when GPs are called in to fill in.
Powis said the NHS is “working very hard” to ensure emergency services are staffed but that cover was “fragile” and “routine care will be affected”.
One of those impacted was south Londoner Phil Sutcliffe, 75, whose cancer check-up visit was postponed to next month.
He nevertheless joined the British Medical Association-organized picket line at St. Thomas’ Hospital (BMA).
“These doctors work incredibly hard for very little money… Hence, he argued, the administration must sit down and begin negotiations.