Doctors in England plan longest strike ever

People hold British Medical Association (BMA) branded placards calling for better pay, as they stand on a picket line outside St Thomas' Hospital in central London on August 11, 2023, during a strike by junior doctors (CREDIT: AFP)

Hospital doctors in England on Wednesday begin their longest consecutive strike in the seven-decade history of Britain’s National Health Service.

Junior doctors — those below consultant level — will walk out for six days in a major escalation of their long-running pay dispute with the United Kingdom government.

The industrial action comes at one of the busiest times of the year for the state-funded NHS, when it faces increased pressure from winter respiratory illnesses.

It also quickly follows a three-day strike held by doctors just before Christmas.

The NHS said the latest walkout, which could see up to half of the medical workforce on picket lines, would have “a significant impact on almost all routine care.”

“This January could be one of the most difficult starts to the year the NHS has ever faced,” said its national medical director, Stephen Powis.

The strike starts at 7:00 am (0700 GMT) and is due to end at the same time on Tuesday, January 9.

The British Medical Association announced the walkout in December after a breakdown in talks with the government.

The union said junior doctors have been offered a 3 per cent rise on top of the average 8.8 per cent increase they were given earlier this year.

It rejected the offer because the cash would be split unevenly across different doctor grades and “still amount to pay cuts for many doctors.”

Junior doctors have gone on strike at least seven times since March.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and hospital leaders have criticised the action.

Health policy is a devolved matter for the administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, with the UK government overseeing England.

Junior doctors in Wales will walk out for 72 hours from January 15.

Those in Northern Ireland have voted for potential strike action.

Their Scottish counterparts have struck a deal with the government in Edinburgh.

The NHS typically sees a rise in the number of people in hospital two weeks after Christmas, due to people delaying seeking treatment to spend the festive season with loved ones.

The service is already facing huge backlogs in waiting times for appointments and surgery, blamed on treatment postponement during Covid but also years of underfunding.