British Government Considers Forcing Healthcare Staff to Work During Strikes

British Government Considers Forcing Healthcare Staff to Work During Strikes

The British government is exploring the possibility of compelling healthcare workers to continue working during industrial strikes. This comes as senior and junior doctors in England prepare to participate in coordinated strike action for the first time. Senior doctors, known as consultants, have already begun a 48-hour walkout, with junior doctors set to join them on Wednesday. The doctors have pledged to maintain emergency care services throughout the strikes.

UK Health Minister Steve Barclay stated that the government aims to protect critical hospital services such as chemotherapy and dialysis. He emphasized the need to balance the right to strike with the obligation to provide key treatments to patients. Other European countries like France and Italy have similar measures in place. Although legislation passed in July requires workers in essential sectors to provide minimal service during industrial action, hospital staff were not included.

The strikes have already led to the cancellation of approximately 900,000 appointments in the state-run National Health Service (NHS) this year. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has made reducing patient waiting lists a top priority, especially with a national election expected next year. Over 7.6 million people in England are currently waiting for hospital treatment.

While junior doctors received a 6% pay rise and an additional £1,250 ($1,547) for 2023/24, the British Medical Association (BMA) trade union claims that they are still experiencing a real-terms pay cut. Consultants, who also received a 6% increase, are seeking a raise above the rate of RPI inflation for the 12 months ending in April, equivalent to 11.4%. The BMA argues for fair pay and a mechanism to correct the loss in real wages.

However, the government has indicated that it will not reopen negotiations on pay for this year. Barclay stated that a fair and definitive stance has already been established. As the strikes continue and discussions between doctors and the government remain at an impasse, the impact on patient care and the growing waiting lists will be closely watched.

– Reuters

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