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BMA delays ballot on consultant strike, as government talks continue

BMJ 2023; 381 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.p780 (Published 03 April 2023) Cite this as: BMJ 2023;381:p780
  1. Elisabeth Mahase
  1. The BMJ

The BMA has postponed its strike ballot for consultants in England, pushing it back almost a month, from 17 April to 15 May, after it held early but “constructive talks” with the government.

In February more than 17 000 consultants in England voted for strike action over pensions and pay in a consultative ballot, which does not provide a legal mandate. The turnout was 61%, and 86% voted in favour of industrial action.1

A second, legal, ballot was then planned for this month, but after talks with the government that led to “significant changes to pension taxation”2 and a commitment from the health and social care secretary for England, Steve Barclay, for “meaningful talks” on pay, the union has decided to hold off on launching it.

“While these talks are still at an early stage, the BMA has agreed to pause launching the ballot to allow the talks to take place,” the announcement said. It added that the delay gave the Department for Health and Social Care “ample time” to engage with the BMA and “work towards an offer that will reverse the erosion of consultant pay and restore the pay review body (DDRB) to its original purpose and independence.”

If the government did not meet these demands, the formal strike ballot would be launched, the BMA said.

Vishal Sharma, chair of its Consultants Committee, said, “Both doctors and the NHS bear the scars of the broken pay review process. Unless these issues are fixed, the NHS will continue to haemorrhage talent and essential expertise, leaving patients without the highly skilled doctors they need to care for them.

“It’s positive that the health secretary has agreed to talks; we now hope that he will use this extension to make a substantive offer to fix consultants’ pay and the broken pay review process . . . If the government refuses to deliver a meaningful solution, our members have made it clear that they are ready to strike.”

The government talks came as junior doctors and Barclay continued to struggle to enter talks over their pay. Junior doctors held a 72 hour strike from 13 March and have announced a second strike of 96 hours from 11 April, citing the health secretary’s refusal to make a credible pay offer.34

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