Demand for 35% pay for NHS doctors ‘not set in stone’, says BMA union leader

A demand by junior doctors for a pay rise of around 35 per cent is ‘not set in stone’, says the head of the British Medical Association, signaling a possible compromise with the government in the long-running pay dispute over the union.

Philip Banfield, chairman of the BMA’s governing council, said the percentage was an indicative figure and suggested an acceptance by ministers that NHS wages had been eroded for many years could pave the way for talks .

In an interview on the eve of the 75th anniversary of the founding of the NHS on Wednesday, Banfield suggested the backdrop to the strikes in England was an underfunded and understaffed healthcare system in which demand exceeded resources by four and the rationing of care was increasingly evident.

Steve Barclay, Health and Social Care Secretary, blamed junior doctors – those below consultant grade – for refusing to budge from their salary demand, which they say is needed to reverse 15 years of wage erosion, saying negotiations can’t begin until they cut it. .

However, Banfield said: “The fundamental problem here is that the government refuses to recognize that there has been a decline in the value of compensation.”

If that admission were made, “then the juniors might say, ‘OK, so now. . . let’s discuss how to get back to restoring that value over the time period you want to trade,” he added.

Chart showing the number of staff leaving the NHS has exploded, and although new workers are constantly being recruited, churn is at an all-time high

The percentage was “not set in stone at all. It’s an indicative amount that when we do our calculations through 2008 and apply the RPI to that, that’s the number you get,” he said.

Record numbers are waiting to start elective treatment for conditions such as knee and hip replacements, a situation made worse by walkouts by NHS staff, including nurses and paramedics, which has contributed to more than 650 000 cancellations of operations or appointments.

Banfield said the unprecedented scale of the action “reflects the frustration and anger of frontline staff at not being valued to continue their work”.

But he played down the impact on waiting lists, pointing to a decline in the NHS workforce and infrastructure for many years. “I would say operations are canceled every day because of lack of capacity, not enough staff, not enough beds.

“The industrial action that takes place for a few days does not add anything significant to the overall picture,” he said.

He also defended the consultants’ decision to strike for two days to secure their own wage demand, insisting that patients would suffer no harm as a result. Emergency coverage would not be affected as senior doctors would provide service “on Christmas Day”. “We will ensure patient safety. . . no ifs or buts,” he said.

Banfield suggested that “recalibrating the value of doctors and what they do in the workplace” was in some ways even more important than a pay rise for its members.

Referring to Associate Doctors, he said: “Now you have people in the workplace who can do less than doctors, get paid £10,000 more and that’s the fastest way to drive doctors out of the NHS and UK.”

The young doctors have been portrayed as militants and criticized for their hardline stance in a battle fought in part through social media. Defending the approach, Banfield said: ‘This government has ignored anyone who tried to talk nice to them. It is simply erased.

Banfield, who started medical school in 1979, said he was “not going to criticize the juniors for getting organized, motivating themselves, putting their minds together. . . I admire them getting up and leaving. I wish my generation had [had] such determination. »

He added: “It is the bloody spirit of this government that is really hampering the resolution of these disputes.”

Banfield, a comprehensive school graduate and trained at St George’s Hospital in south-west London, was the first in his family to attend university.

He remembers being told he should not aspire to a place at a distinguished teaching hospital in London, as no one from his school had ever done so. “It revealed my characteristic of ‘when someone tells me it can’t be done, do it,'” he added.

Philip Banfield
Philip Banfield: ‘It is the bloody spirit of this government that is really getting in the way of resolving these disputes’ © Colin McPherson/FT

Working as an obstetrics and gynecology consultant in Rhyl, a deprived area in North Wales, he said the social mix he encountered at school “kept me grounded. . . and I feel at home with these patients because you stand up for them and with them in the advocacy against the system.

Separately, the heads of three leading health and care research institutes, the King’s Fund, the Nuffield Trust and the Health Foundation, have written to the leaders of England’s three largest political parties, calling on them to commit to long-term investments and to reforming the NHS.

“To persist with the current reliance on short-termism and catchy initiatives will risk the health service not being able to adapt to the enormous challenges ahead and reach its centenary,” they wrote.

Banfield said that while there was ‘absolutely no fundamental reason’ why the current taxpayer-funded NHS model could not survive, amid huge strain on its resources, Banfield suggested that the audience needed to be involved in a discussion about what he might deliver in the future.

He pointed to an initiative by BMA Scotland, which called for ‘a big conversation with the Scottish Government to say ‘actually if there is a mismatch between resource and supply then you need to talk to the public about what will be provided and not provided”.

The Department of Health said the government had tabled an opening offer – a 5% increase and one-time payment for 2023-24 – ‘and there were active discussions underway on a range of wage measures and non-salary to improve the professional life of young doctors.

“However, the committee of young doctors has turned its back on the negotiations by announcing new strikes,” he added.

The government had been “clear that the strikes must be suspended while the talks take place, and we remain ready to continue talking at any time if the strikes are called off and the Young Doctors Committee shows its willingness to s ‘significantly set aside their unreasonable wage demands,’ he added. .

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