Doctors on strike in England at odds with hospitals over calls to return to work

LONDON –

The longest planned strike in the history of Britain’s state-funded National Health Service entered its second day of six on Thursday with doctors in England at odds with hospitals over requests by some to leave the picket line to cover urgent needs during one of the busiest times of the strike. year.

The strike is the ninth organized by doctors in the early stages of their careers in just over a year amid their increasingly bitter pay dispute with the government. Before the strike, plans were drawn up for junior doctors, who form the backbone of hospital and clinical care, to return to work if hospitals became overwhelmed.

The British Medical Association, the union representing most of the roughly 75,000 striking doctors, had agreed with NHS bosses on a system for so-called redundancies, in which junior doctors return to work in the event of safety concerns. related to emergency care. Hospitals are expected to demonstrate that they have “exhausted” all other staffing sources before removing doctors.

On Wednesday, the first day of the strike, hospitals submitted 20 requests for junior doctors to return to work due to fears for patient safety, with several declaring critical incidents and others warning of significant waits in emergency rooms. . So far none have been granted.

In a letter to NHS England chief executive Amanda Pritchard, BMA president Professor Philip Banfield said hospitals’ refusal to provide the necessary data “is fundamentally undermining the repeal process”.

In response, the body representing NHS organizations said completing forms took time and could undermine patient safety.

“Rather than accusing hospital leaders of refusing to provide the required information in full to the BMA, it is rather that they need to limit the valuable time they and their teams have available to complete forms when patient safety could be be at risk,” said Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation.

During the strike, senior doctors, known as consultants, provide some of the care typically provided by their juniors. But there are not enough to fill the gap and NHS managers have said tens of thousands of appointments and operations will be postponed because of the strike.

Britain has endured a year of rolling strikes across the health sector as staff sought pay rises to offset the rising cost of living.

The BMA says newly qualified doctors earn 15.53 pounds (about $19) an hour (the minimum wage in the United Kingdom is just over 10 pounds (almost $12.6) an hour), although salaries are rising quickly after the first year.

Nurses, ambulance crews and consultants have reached pay deals with the government, but negotiations with junior doctors collapsed late last year. The government says it will not hold further talks unless doctors call off the strike, while the BMA says it will not negotiate unless it receives a “credible” pay offer.

The government gave doctors an 8.8% pay rise last year, but the union says it is not enough as pay has been cut by more than a quarter since 2008.

Young doctors will not be able to work until 7 a.m. on Tuesday.

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