Doctors in England escalate pay dispute as they announce another 4-day walkout in August

FILE - Junior doctor and members of the British Medical Association (BMA) stand on the picket line outside Leeds General Infirmary at the start a five-day strike amid the continuing dispute over pay, the longest walkout of its kind in the history of the NHS, in Leeds, England, on July 13, 2023. Tens of thousands of doctors in Britains state-funded health service will go on strike for a further four days in August as their pay dispute with the government shows few, if any, signs of resolution, their union said Wednesday July 26, 2023. (Danny Lawson/PA via AP, File) (Danny Lawson)

LONDON – Tens of thousands of doctors in Britain’s state-funded health service will go on strike for a further four days in August as their pay dispute with the government shows few, if any, signs of resolution, their union said Wednesday.

Fresh from a five-day walkout that was described as the longest in the history of the National Health Service, doctors at the early stages of their careers will stage a walkout in England between Aug. 11 and Aug. 15.

“It should never have got to the point where we needed to announce a fifth round of strike action,” said Dr. Robert Laurenson and Dr. Vivek Trivedi, co-chairs of the British Medical Association’s junior doctors’ committee.

“Our message today remains the same: act like a responsible government, come to the table to negotiate with us in good faith, and with a credible offer these strikes need not go ahead at all,” they added.

The approximately 75,000 so-called junior doctors are asking for a 35% pay bump to get pay back to 2008 levels once inflation is taken into account. But the government is only offering them 6% with an additional consolidated increase, and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has insisted there will be no more discussions.

Like other nations in Europe, the United Kingdom has faced disruptive strikes as workers, from teachers to train drivers and nurses, have pressed for pay that keeps pace with a sharp increase in consumer prices.

The latest strike by junior doctors, who do much of the routine work in hospitals and who work very long hours, will inevitably add to the backlog at the embattled health service. Industrial action in England over the last eight months has already led to 819,000 appointments, operations and procedures being postponed, according to the NHS.

The junior doctors aren't the only grouping in the NHS who are in a dispute with the government over pay. On Tuesday, radiographers started a 48-hour strike in hospitals across England, while senior doctors, known as consultants, walked out last week for the first time in more than a decade.

“If the prime minister was hoping to demoralise and divide our profession with his actions, he will be disappointed,” Laurenson and Trivedi said.

Earlier this month, the government announced pay increases for millions of public sector workers, including teachers, who were one group who decided to call off their strike action in the wake of the offer made — 6.5% in their case.

The strikes across Britain have been stoked by the emergence of high inflation for the first time in years. Price rises were first stoked by supply chain issues resulting from the pandemic and then by Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, which sent energy and food prices soaring.

Though inflation has come down from its double-digit peak — to 7.9% — it is far above the Bank of England 2% target. The central bank is widely expected to raise its main interest rate by a further 0.25% to a new 15-year high of 5.25% next week.