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Treatments canceled during English strike

by Emily Ashton Bloomberg News | September 19, 2023 at 4:00 a.m.

Junior and senior doctors in England's hospitals will strike together for the first time this week, in a historic move that will cause major disruption for patients and raise pressure on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to get a grip on industrial action.

National Health Service leaders warned that almost all planned care will be stopped, with hundreds of thousands of appointments postponed. "The NHS has simply never seen this kind of industrial action in its history," NHS national medical director Stephen Powis said in an emailed statement.

Consultants -- the most senior grade of doctors -- will walk out from 7 a.m. today for 48 hours. Junior doctors -- qualified medics who are still in training -- will join them for 24 hours from 7 a.m. Wednesday. They will deliver Christmas Day levels of staffing, meaning only emergency care will be provided.

Junior medics will then continue their strike with a "full walkout" on Thursday and Friday.

Both groups will strike again on Oct. 2-4, coinciding with the ruling Conservative Party's annual conference in Manchester.

The walkouts are a major blow to Sunak ahead of a general election expected next year, with the opinion poll-leading opposition Labour Party eyeing a return to power after 14 years. Ongoing strikes can reinforce an impression of public service decline under the Tories, and trade unions aim to underline this by coordinating action during the party's high-profile gathering.

Train drivers have also announced strikes over pay and conditions at the beginning and end of the conference, when attendees will be traveling.

Sunak had hoped to draw a line under the U.K.'s worst period of worker unrest since the late 1980s by signing off on pay rises for millions of public sector workers in July. That brought an end to walkouts by teachers, and nurses brought their strikes to a close in June. But industrial action continues apace by doctors and railway workers.

The British Medical Association, which represents doctors, has said consultants and junior medics have suffered significant real-terms pay cuts and that recruitment and retention are being affected. Sunak has argued that excessive pay deals risk fueling inflation that, at 6.8%, is still running at more than three times the official target.

The premier is also eager to limit spending on a health service in which costs keep spiraling -- from 2% of GDP in the mid-1950s when it was created to 10.2% in 2019 and an estimated 13.8% by 2067. But failing to negotiate with doctors is fraught with political risk, not least because one of his five core promises is to reduce NHS waiting lists.

Information for this article was contributed by Eamon Akil Farhat of Bloomberg News.

Print Headline: Treatments canceled during English strike


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