Junior doctors in Britain set to strike over pay, hours

Nearly 37,000 doctors are unhappy with a proposal to lower night and weekend pay, and have concerns that doctors could become overworked with a new deal.
By Stephen Feller  |  Jan. 5, 2016 at 9:48 AM
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LONDON, Jan. 5 (UPI) -- Doctors in Britain have announced three planned strikes in January and February after contract negotiations with the government broke down again over pay rates and work hours. If carried out, they would be the first such walkout in 40 years.

The British Medical Association announced junior doctors in the country would provide only emergency care for 24 hours starting on January 12, for 48 hours starting January 26, and a full shut-down on February 10 if the dispute has not been resolved, reported the BBC.

National Health Service ministers offered doctors an 11 percent raise in pay, however the doctors claim it will only offset other pay curbed in the deal, including higher pay for "unsociable" hours, or nights and weekends.

The goal of lowering expenses for the NHS, which finished last year with a $2.9 billion deficit, would allow for more services to be provided seven days a week, and help improve patient waiting times. While weekends are currently paid at a higher rate, the governments proposed contract would include 12 Saturday hours at the regular pay rate, as well as extending the regular pay rate three hours each weekday evening.

The BMA has voiced concerns this could lead to overworked doctors and weaken safeguards that limit excessive hours.

The BMA, which represents doctors who work for Britain's National Health Service, issued the new call for strikes, or "industrial action," after several weeks of negotiations leading up to Christmas failed bring the two sides to an agreement. Similar strikes were called off in November after the NHS said it would not impose a new contract and would restart negotiations.

As many as 99 percent of the 37,000 junior doctors in the BMA voted in favor of strikes in November, which the group called after meeting with NHS ministers for just an hour on January 4.

"The government has repeatedly dragged its feet throughout this process, initially rejecting our offer of talks and failing to make significant movement during negotiations," said Mark Porter, chair of the BMA, according to the Financial Times. "We sincerely regret the disruption that industrial action will cause, but junior doctors have been left with no option."

British Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt called the strikes unnecessary because he felt the negotiations were progressing, especially on protections to prevent doctors from being overworked, and thought the sides would start finding common ground on pay as well.

While weekend pay was being brought down, Hunt said basic pay was being increased. The new contract proposals from NHS also say doctors are not allowed to work more than four nights in a row, but that a balance must be struck because hospitals have three times fewer staff on weekends because the facilities can't afford to hire more people at the weekend rate.

"The Government is, understandably, putting round the fact that agreement is almost there," Porter said, according to The Telegraph. "It's almost there in their mind but not in the minds of junior doctors. An 11 per cent pay increase doesn't compensate when you take away a 31 per cent average payment for working the unsocial hours. Anybody can do the maths on that."

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