UK hospital doctors on Monday began a three-day strike over pay at the start of a week that will also see teachers, train staff and civil servants walk out, in the latest wave of industrial action.
The doctors say years of below-inflation pay increases mean they have effectively had a 26% pay cut since 2008.
Ahead of the stoppage, the body that represents them, the British Medical Association (BMA), launched an advertising campaign claiming a newly qualified doctor earned less than some coffee shop staff.
“Pret a Manger has announced it will pay up to £14.10 ($17.13) per hour,” the ad said. “A junior doctor makes just £14.09. Thanks to this Government, you can make more serving coffee than saving patients. This week junior doctors will take strike action so they are paid what they are worth.”
The strike by so-called junior doctors – a category of doctors who are not senior specialists but who can still have decades of experience – is the longest they have ever staged. Cover will be provided by the senior specialists, known as consultants.
“I thought by being a doctor I would be able to achieve financial independence, but instead I am still completely dependent on others,” said Becky Bates, a recently-qualified junior doctor in central England. “With (university) tuition fee loans, credit cards and personal loans, I’ve left medical school with over £100,000 debt, and now my wages are not even enough to allow me to fix my car when something goes wrong.”
On Wednesday, millions of thousands of workers are expected to stop work, including teachers, London Underground train drivers, BBC journalists and university staff. Since last year the UK has been plagued by strikes across the economy from nurses and ambulance staff to lawyers and dock workers, fueled by soaring food, fuel and housing costs.
Unaffordable pay demands
They have all clashed with the government, which insists the country cannot afford inflation-busting pay hikes. Doctors and nurses leaders have repeatedly warned that poor pay and conditions are driving UK-trained medical and nursing staff abroad at a time of record waiting lists exacerbated by a pandemic treatment backlog. The BMA says junior doctors in England have suffered a 26% real-terms cut to their country since 2008-09.
“Is it any surprise that junior doctors are looking for jobs abroad or in other fields when the government is telling them they are worth more than a quarter less than they were in 2008? Losing such valuable clinicians to other countries and professions when waiting lists are at record highs means patients will suffer even more than they are already,” said doctors Robert Laurenson and Vivek Trivedi, co-chairs of the BMA junior doctors’ committee, in a joint statement.
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Health Secretary Steve Barclay said the BMA’s decision to push ahead with the strike was “incredibly disappointing.” He said the body had declined to enter formal pay negotiations on condition that the strikes were paused. Other unions representing nurses and ambulance workers had put their strike action on hold to allow negotiations to continue this week, he added.