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Junior doctors in England launch 4-day strike over pay

April 11, 2023

Junior doctors in England began a four-day strike over pay on Tuesday that is likely to cause unprecedented disruption to the the UK's public health service.

Junior doctors hold placards during a strike, amid a dispute with the government over pay, outside St Thomas' Hospital in London
Up to 350,000 medical appointments are expected to be canceled during the four-day strike, with hospitals asked to reschedule proceduresImage: Maja Smiejkowska/REUTERS

Tens of thousands of doctors in England walked out of hospitals and clinics on Tuesday, in what's considered the most disruptive strike in the history of the publicly-funded National Health Service (NHS).

Up to 350,000 medical appointments are expected to be canceled during the four-day strike, with hospitals asked to reschedule procedures, according to health officials.

"This latest round of strikes will see unparalleled levels of disruption, and we are very concerned about the potential severity of impact on patients and services across the country," said Stephen Powis, medical director of NHS England. 

He said the walkout was "probably the most disruptive period of action in NHS history."

Medical staff strikes were exceedingly rare in the UK until the last few years, often on the basis that staff shortages could pose health risks.

The strike by junior doctors is prompted by a need for pay rises to make up for increasing inflation. The term junior doctor is somewhat misleading, in that it accounts for almost half of all doctors in the UK, can even include physicians with a decade's experience, and often refers to front line staff working in hospitals and larger walk-in clinics.

They can also earn very different salaries or wages depending on how junior they are.

Crisis across UK's public health service

The latest round of strikes comes as the NHS is overwhelmed with around 7 million patients waiting for hospital treatment. 

Senior doctors and experienced nurses have had to step in to ensure that emergency services and critical care remain intact during the four-day strike.

The British Medical Association, the union representing doctors, is calling for a 35% pay rise to make up for what it says was 15 years of below-inflation pay increases. 

The union has said that the current strike could be stopped if the UK health minister Steve Barclay can make a "credible offer" on pay. 

Barclay has called the 35% demand unreasonable, pointing to other medical unions recommending that their members consider a much more modest increase of 5% plus a one-off lump sum.

"Not only will the walkouts risk patient safety, but they have also been timed to maximize disruption after the Easter break," he said in a statement.

Striking NHS junior doctors on the picket line outside Leicester Royal Infirmary
The disruption caused by the strike will take weeks to recover from, according to NHS England's medical director Stephen PowisImage: Jacob King/PA/dpa/picture alliance

Workers protesting soaring inflation

Junior doctors join hundreds of thousands of public sector workers across the UK, who have called strikes over the past months. Nurses across Britain have also been striking this winter, in the first nationwide industrial action in the 106-year history of their union.

Ambulance staff, teachers, bus drivers and postal workers are among those who have walked off their jobs in demand for pay rises aligned with inflation, which stood at 10.4% year-on-year in February in the UK.

vh/msh (Reuters, AP, AFP)