Medical consultants in England are being re-balloted on extending their mandate for industrial action, even as the British Medical Assocation remains in talks with the government over resolving the dispute.
The BMA today said the ballot was open, and will close on 18 December. If successful, the new mandate would last until 17 June 2024. Consultants’ current IA mandate expires on Boxing Day.
Consultants began strikes in the summer, and held the first ever joint action with junior doctors last month, in walkouts which coincided with the annual Conservative party autumn conference.
Although it is seeking a new mandate, the BMA consultants committee said it had no plans to announce further strike dates at present while talks with ministers are ongoing.
The BMA claims consultants’ take-home pay has fallen by a third since 2008-09 and that the government’s 2023-24 pay settlement of 6 per cent represents another real-terms pay cut.
Vishal Sharma, chair of the BMA’s consultants committee, said: “Our re-ballot begins today as planned as it is vital that, even during these negotiations, we continue to have a legal mandate to call more industrial action if they break down…
“To prevent further strikes we need the government to commit to fix pay now and for the future. Only then can we not only resolve this dispute but retain the NHS’s most expert clinicians at a time they’re needed most.”
Government has said it will not increase its pay offer for this year, so it is thought negotiations are likely to focus on additional one-off payments, future years’ pay, and non-pay asks.
NHS England has made the impact of ongoing industrial action increasingly clear as the health service enters winter, with its CEO Amanda Pritchard last week saying the target to eliminate 65-week waits by next spring was under threat. It is also seeking more than £1bn additional revenue from the Treasury to offset increased costs and lost efficiencies due to covering strike action.
Also last month, NHSE called for the BMA to review its derogation process, under which doctors can be called back in from the picket line under certain circumstances, and said it was not protecting safety.
Professor Banfield indicated changes were possible but asserted the NHS had made “several planning failures”, including that some trusts had “not appropriately rescheduled non-urgent elective activity” leading up to the strikes.
The BMA has confirmed specialist, associate specialist and specialty doctors in England will be formally balloted alongside consultants.
Junior doctors voted in favour of a further six months of strike action in the summer, a mandate which runs to February.