Surgeons and other senior doctors in England are threatening to strike if No10 does not improve the one per cent pay rise it has proposed for NHS staff.
The British Medical Association said today that the original offer was ‘little more than an insult’ after a year of battling the pandemic.
It will will advise ‘exhausted and demoralised’ members to take industrial action if the annual pay bump is not increased to at least five per cent. The BMA had originally been calling for a 12.5 per cent rise.
Striking would involve stopping all overtime, paid and unpaid. Doctors generally work up to 20 per cent over their contracted hours every week, the BMA said.
The move could be highly disruptive as the NHS tries to clear record backlogs triggered by the pandemic.
A record 5.12million people are on waiting lists in England for routine care, the highest since records began. Among them, 65,000 have been waiting for more than 18 months.
And there are early signs that hospital rates from Covid are picking up too, with 304 patients admitted with the virus on June 28, the latest data available.
This was a 35 per cent rise on the previous week but still a far cry from levels in previous waves of the Covid crisis.
Consultants, the most senior doctors in hospitals, have not taken any industrial action since the 1970s, apart from one day of action over pensions in 2012.
Dr Vishal Sharma, deputy chair of the BMA consultants committee, said the proposed 1 per cent pay rise for consultants comes as they are ‘exhausted, suffering from high levels of burnout and are expected to deal with the longest waiting lists on records’
The number of people on the NHS waiting lists hit its highest-ever number of 5.12million last month, including around 65,000 people who have waited more than 18 months
How long is the NHS waiting list?
More than 5million people in England are now waiting for NHS hospital treatment — the highest number ever recorded.
Official data released in June showed the number now stands at 5.12million, and has risen consistently since the Covid pandemic began.
Statistics released for the first time also revealed the true extent of the NHS backlog, with almost 65,000 patients waiting at least 18 months for routine operations, such as hip and knee replacements.
Around 2,700 patients haven’t been treated within two years.
Critics slammed the ‘grim milestone’, calling on ministers to make tackling the ‘gigantic’ backlog their top priority. The Royal College of Surgeons called the data on patients waiting at least one year ‘particularly troubling’.
Hospitals turned their attention to treating coronavirus patients during the first and second waves, cancelling thousands of non-urgent procedures.
Health chiefs fear non-Covid care could be threatened again if the Indian variant’s rapid spread — which has left hopes of ‘Freedom Day’ going ahead on a knife-edge — causes hospital admissions to spike.
Vaccines have broken the link between cases and serious illness, but SAGE advisers still fear the mutant strain could trigger a ‘substantial’ third wave.
Millions of over-50s have yet to be fully vaccinated and data shows a single dose is slightly less effective against the Delta variant, which has bolstered calls for No10 to delay June 21 to give the NHS more time to dish out top-up jabs.
The BMA has been lobbying No10 for an NHS pay rise since March.
It said that, since the pandemic began doctors and members of the public have written over 4,000 letters to MPs demanding a significant pay increase for healthcare workers.
Dr Vishal Sharma, deputy chair of the BMA consultants committee, said doctors feel a ‘huge sense of obligation to stay on well beyond the end of their shift’ to help colleagues see patients who are waiting to be seen.
He said: ‘The NHS has always relied on the goodwill of its staff, like consultants, to paper over the cracks in an under-funded NHS.
‘This has never been the case more than during the pandemic when consultants have gone above and beyond to care for patients, putting themselves and their families’ lives at risk in the process.
‘Consultants are exhausted, suffering from high levels of burnout and are expected to deal with the longest waiting lists on records.
‘It is therefore essential to maintain the goodwill of consultants so that they can help to clear the patient backlog, undertake additional waiting list clinics and take on extra weekend work.
‘Instead, with its suggestion of a pay award of 1 per cent, an effective pay-cut, the Government has left consultants feeling angry and undervalued.
‘It is within the gift of Ministers to award NHS staff a fair pay award and to demonstrate that consultants are valued and avoid any potential disputes at a time when extra capacity in the NHS is crucial.’
A DHSC spokesperson said: ‘We are incredibly grateful to all our NHS staff. This year the Government has committed to providing a pay uplift for NHS staff, including consultants, when uplifts across the public sector have been paused, to acknowledge the extraordinary effort of NHS staff through the pandemic.
‘We recognise the recommendations from the pay review bodies are an incredibly important issue and we will carefully consider them before responding.’
Data from the NHS Business Authority shows that since 2008, 21 per cent of doctors have left the NHS.
A recent survey by the BMA found that 72 per cent may retire early, with pay cuts and taxes imposed on their pensions being the biggest drivers.
Jenny McGee, one of the nurses who looked after Boris Johnson when he was in hospital with Covid, announced in May that she had handed in her resignation, because nurses were not getting the pay or respect they deserved.
The pay increase offered to consultants is identical to the 1 per cent rise offered to nurses earlier this year.
Disgraced former Health Secretary Matt Hancock defended the nurses pay rise as ‘fair’ in light of the ‘financial consequences’ caused by the pandemic, but medics described it as a ‘slap in the face’.
In Scotland, NHS workers negotiated a 4 per cent pay rise earlier this year.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon also announced a £500 bonus last year for all health and social care to show the country’s appreciation for their work during the pandemic.