The Guardian

British doctors begin longest strike in NHS history

Doctors at British hospitals on Wednesday began the longest consecutive strike in the 70-year history of Britain's National Health Service (NHS).

Junior doctors below consultant level have embarked on a six-day strike amid a major escalation in a long-running pay dispute with the UK government.

The industrial action comes at one of the busiest times of the year for the state-funded NHS, which faces increasing pressure from winter respiratory illnesses.

It also follows a three-day strike by doctors just before Christmas.

The NHS said the suspension could result in up to half of medical workers on picket lines reporting to work, which would have a “significant impact on almost all day-to-day care”.

“January this year could be the start of the most challenging year the NHS has ever faced,” said Stephen Powis, the country's medical director.

The strike is scheduled to end next Tuesday at 0700 GMT.

The British Medical Association (BMA) announced a strike in December after talks with the government failed.

The union said junior doctors were offered a 3.0% increase on top of the average 8.8% increase offered earlier this year.

It rejected the offer, saying the cash would be distributed unevenly by doctor grade and would “still amount to a pay cut for many doctors.”

Young doctors have gone on strike at least seven times since March.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak and hospital leaders criticized the move.

– 'important' –
Health policy is vested in the governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, with the UK government overseeing England.

Junior doctors in Wales will be required to stay home for 72 hours from January 15th.

The people of Northern Ireland have voted in favor of possible strike action.

The Scottish side signed an agreement with the Edinburgh government.

The NHS typically sees a rise in admissions in the two weeks after Christmas. This is to delay people seeking treatment so they can spend the Christmas season with their loved ones.

The service is already facing a huge backlog of waiting times for appointments and surgeries, not only due to postponed treatments due to COVID-19, but also due to years of underfunding.

Julian Hartley, chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents UK hospital groups, said the impact of the strike on patients would be “significant”.

“The vast majority of planned operations and appointments will have to be cancelled,” he told BBC television.

The consultants will cover junior doctors and also run emergency medical services such as obstetrics and intensive care services.

But there are also concerns that the coronavirus, influenza and other seasonal conditions could also take a toll on staffing levels.

“We are very concerned about what the impact will be over the next few days,” Hartley said.


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