By Harry Mottram: Operations and consultations at the Bath RUH will be disrupted by industrial action by hospital consultants who are downing stethoscopes and walking out for 48 hours on Thursday and Friday, 20-21 July, 2023.
The RUH said: “Industrial action by the most senior doctors working in the NHS is likely to cause significant disruption to services in Bath and North East Somerset, Swindon and Wiltshire. Consultants at the Royal United Hospital in Bath, the Great Western Hospital in Swindon and Salisbury District Hospital are due to take part in a national 48-hour walkout, starting at 7am on Thursday 20 July. The two-day strike, which will end at 7am on Saturday 22 July, comes at a very challenging time for the local NHS, with the region’s hospitals having just emerged from five days of continuous industrial action by junior doctors.
“Hospital consultants are senior doctors and while a large part of their role involves caring and treating patients, they are also responsible for providing support, supervision and guidance to junior doctors and other staff. This week’s strike will involve consultants providing a level of service similar to that of Christmas Day, which means emergency care will be provided, but routine appointments and pre-planned operations will be severely impacted.”
The RUH said that patients due in hospital on either of the strike days are advised to attend as normal, unless told otherwise, with those whose appointments are affected being contacted directly with details of alternative arrangements.
Following the strike by consultants, the Society of Radiographers has announced 48 hours of strike action across 40 hospital trusts between 8am on Tuesday 25 and 8am on Thursday 27 July. For further information about local health and care services, including those that can be accessed on the day, visit www.bswtogether.org.uk/yourhealth.
The dispute is over pay with the trade union for doctors The British Medical Association campaigning for an above inflation pay rise to claw back the cuts to salaries over the last few years. They said that, because inflation has risen faster than pay, consultants have seen their real take-home pay fall by 35% over the past 14 years a fall in real terms annual earnings have fallen by 15% since 2010.
Consultants in England, who go on strike on Thursday and Friday, will do the same next month on 24 and 25 August, as the BMA announces new industrial action dates in response to the Government imposing another real-terms pay cut on doctors. Last week, the Government announced a pay award of less than 6% for consultants, once all elements of pay are considered, following a recommendation for the same from the pay review body.
The strike will be based on Christmas Day levels of cover, meaning emergency care will still be provided.
Dr Vishal Sharma, BMA consultants committee chair, said: “The Government has once again imposed a savage real terms pay cut on consultants. When inflation is running at more than 11%, this is nothing short of insulting. Consultants have always been clear that industrial action is a last resort but in the face of a Government intent on devaluing consultants’ expertise and their lack of regard for the impact this is having on the NHS, we have been left with no choice. “We’ve had our pay cut year after year, put our lives on the line during a pandemic and now are managing a record backlog of care. The Prime Minister says cutting these waiting lists is a priority but then undermines his own policy by showing he doesn’t value those charged with delivering it. Cutting pay once again shows the Government’s complete disregard for the profession.”
However the Government is firm in its resistance to the claim for an above inflation pay rise. Health Secretary Steve Barclay has urged consultants to put an end to their strike action. He said: “This government has also reformed pension tax rules for consultants, something the BMA campaigned for over many years. I am disappointed the BMA is going ahead with this week’s strike, given the average consultant’s NHS earnings are expected to increase to £134,000 a year. My door is always open to discuss non-pay issues, but this pay award is final so I urge the BMA to end their strikes immediately.”
While there has been widespread public support for the nurses and junior doctors taking strike action over pay there is a question mark as to how much public support the consultants enjoy. Those who have had their operations and treatments cancelled over the strike action may see things differently from those not affected. The year of industrial discontent amongst teachers, medics, railway workers and others looks set to continue – all with the backdrop of a rise in the cost of living and high inflation driving up prices. The Government of Rishi Sunak have said that driving down inflation is their main priority. The battle for hearts and minds seems to rest on whether they can cut inflation to low single figures this year – and there hangs a tale.