UK Government Looks to Force Healthcare Staff to Work During Strikes

UK Government Looks to Force Healthcare Staff to Work During Strikes

The British government is considering measures to compel healthcare workers to work during industrial action, as senior and junior doctors in England prepare to take coordinated strike action for the first time. The move comes as senior doctors, known as consultants, began a 48-hour walkout, with junior doctors scheduled to join the strike the following day. The doctors plan to hold three additional days of joint strike action next month, while still ensuring emergency care is provided at levels comparable to Christmas Day.

Health Minister Steve Barclay explained that the government aims to safeguard time-critical hospital services, such as chemotherapy and dialysis, while acknowledging the importance of the right to strike. He cited France and Italy as examples where similar measures are already in place. In July, the government passed legislation requiring minimum service levels during industrial action for key sectors such as rail and fire services, but it did not include hospital staff.

The government has stated that approximately 900,000 appointments in the National Health Service (NHS) have been canceled as a result of doctor strikes this year. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has made reducing NHS patient waiting lists one of his top priorities, with over 7.6 million people currently awaiting hospital treatment in England.

While junior doctors were recently granted a 6% pay increase and £1,250 ($1,547) for the upcoming year, the British Medical Association (BMA) trade union argues that they will still face a real-terms pay cut. Consultants also received a 6% rise, but the BMA is demanding a pay increase above the level of RPI inflation for the 12 months leading up to April, which stands at 11.4%. In an open letter to Sunak and Barclay, the BMA’s consultants committee chair Vishal Sharma emphasized the need for fairness and an end to pay cuts.

However, the government has made it clear that it does not intend to reopen negotiations. Health Minister Barclay stated that a “fair and final position” regarding pay for this year has been established.

– Reuters

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