Consultants have vowed to nullify Rishi Sunak’s promise to cut waiting lists by holding more strikes unless he meets their wage demands.
Senior doctors from the British Medical Association admitted they are using desperate patients as ‘leverage’ in their push for a 35 percent increase.
Speaking at the annual trade union conference in Liverpool, the medics issued a thinly veiled threat to the prime minister, warning that he has ‘7.4 million reasons to talk to us’.
It comes as waiting lists in England reach a record 7.4 million, with more than 650,000 appointments and surgeries canceled since December due to industrial action.
Mr Sunak has made reducing waiting times in the NHS one of his five priorities as leader, which also includes halving inflation and stopping migrants crossing the Channel on small boats.
The number of people waiting for routine hospital treatment in England rose to a record 7.42 million (red line) in April, figures show. More than 370,000 people lined up for routine surgeries, such as hip replacements, waited more than a year (yellow bars)
Funding for the NHS has risen sharply in recent years, with a total budget of ?152.6bn in 2022/23, about ?28.4bn more than in 2016/17 at 2022/23 prices. The chart does not reflect the additional ?2.4 billion the government has pledged in its long-term workforce plan
Consultants will strike in England on July 20 and 21, despite a 4.5 per cent increase last year, bringing their average income to ?128,000.
Junior doctors are on strike from July 13 to 18, in the longest strike in NHS history.
A worrying development is that the advisers also refused to rule out future strikes at the same time as their junior colleagues, which would pose a serious threat to patient safety.
NHS England chief executive Amanda Pritchard pleaded with doctors and the government to end their bitter dispute, warning that strikes ‘cannot drag on’ in the busy winter months.
She said patients are “heartbroken” when appointments and surgeries are canceled due to strikes, posing a “real challenge” to the service.
Asked if there was any hope that Mr Sunak would keep his promise on the waiting list unless he arranges payment, Dr. Mike Henley, Co-Deputy Chairman of the BMA Advisors Committee: ?No. No.’
He agreed that the advisors have “power,” adding, “It’s about leverage. We don’t want to use leverage. We just want a fair reward system that hires and retains people.
?But we’ve been put in this position where unfortunately we have to use leverage. They have a political problem and we have an easy and fair solution.’
He said he was ‘appalled’ that strikes would exacerbate waiting times, but said: ‘We shouldn’t be put in this position, should we. The patient should not be placed in this position.
‘It is very problematic for the government that both doctors in training and consultants get into fights with the government. There must be a settlement.’
Dr. Shanu Datta, the second of three deputies on the committee, said: “There are 7.4 million reasons why they [the government] must talk to us.’
Consultants are demanding a 35 percent wage increase, which they say explains the real drop in their take-home pay since 2008.
The proposals are detailed in the first NHS Long-Term Workforce Plan, which is backed by ?2.4bn of government funding
They also want the government to reform the wage monitoring body, which advises ministers on settlements, claiming it is no longer independent or fit for purpose.
Think tanks have challenged the BMA’s calculations, saying they also don’t account for favorable changes in their pensions.
Dr. Simon Walsh, the third co-delegate of the BMA’s advisory committee, confessed to doctors that they are concerned about public opinion turning against them as a result of strikes.
But he said, ‘We can’t be in a position where we’re afraid to do what we know is right.
“Unless we address this, the staffing crisis among consultants and the wider workforce will get worse.”
He apparently tried to reverse his colleagues’ earlier comments, emphasizing, “I wouldn’t say we’re using patients as leverage because the reason the waiting lists are the way they are isn’t the fault of doctors.”
Dr. Henley said the government doesn’t need a “massive amount of money” to fund their wage demands, calling it a “political choice.”
“There’s always political money for all sorts of other things that need to be done in other arenas and areas,” he added.
‘Look at the wasted personal protective equipment etc. There is money when it needs to be found.
“If you want a health service, you have to pay for the staff who are in it, across the board.” We will continue to take joint action if there is no sensible solution from the government.’
Junior doctors will stage a full strike later this month, including from A&E and cancer departments, while consultants will offer “Christmas Day coverage,” meaning they will cancel non-urgent clinics but provide urgent care.
A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care said: ‘We really appreciate the work of NHS advisers.
?We are in discussion with the BMA Consultants Committee about their concerns and it is disappointing that BMA members voted in favor of strike action.
?We stand ready to reopen talks ? we are urging them to come to the negotiating table rather than continue with their proposed strike dates.
‘Strikes are hugely disruptive to patients and put pressure on other NHS staff, and we continue to call on the BMA to carefully consider the likely impact of any action on patients.’
Mediation service Acas has said it is “ready and willing to help,” but the government is refusing to hold talks with doctors as long as strikes are planned.
Ms Pritchard said the strikes, which are ‘virtually back-to-back’, will pose a ‘real challenge’ to the NHS.
Earlier this week, the BMA threatened strikes “until the next general election and beyond” and warned that other doctors’ groups could organize strikes, including GPs.
“We are now eight months into the most disruptive, most significant period of industrial action in our history,” Ms Pritchard told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
‘That will probably become more challenging now, because we are hitting both starting doctors and advisors who are taking action.
?Halfway through this month, we’ve scheduled action for seven out of eight days and it’s pretty much back-to-back, so that’s going to really challenge our system.
“It’s not my job to pay, that’s (for) the government dealing with unions, but it’s absolutely my job to work with unions and with the NHS to make sure we mitigate the risks to the restrict patient safety.?
She added: ?We are working with everyone to ensure that during industrial actions we are focused on protecting patients and minimizing disruption.
‘But the hard truth is that this is now proving to be really disturbing for patients.
?We have had many hundreds of thousands of appointments, procedures cancelled, rescheduled.
?And you know, the next set of actions will mean more of that.
“It’s heartbreaking when you’ve canceled an appointment while you’ve canceled a procedure, especially if you’ve waited a long time, and especially if it’s not the first time this has happened.
So I urge all parties to redouble their efforts to find a solution.
“Last winter was the busiest on record and we can’t let strikes drag on into this winter.”