Health Secretary Steve Barclay has criticised the “increasing militancy” and “politically” motivated strikes, and said that is why new legislation to curtail walkouts is being introduced.
Mr Barclay was speaking as consultants took industrial action today, with junior doctors set to join them tomorrow in the first joint strike in NHS history.
The government is consulting on adding requirements for medical staff to provide minimum service levels during strike days, adding to the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Act passed earlier this year. This legislation introduced minimum service levels for sectors like rail workers.
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Speaking to Sky News, Mr Barclay said that the “Christmas Day” service levels provided on strike days do not “get the balance right”.
He said: “And we’ve seen this escalation increasing militancy, a desire politically to time strikes, including with the Conservative Party conference to refuse exemptions that have been agreed locally by their own representatives, as we saw in some cases in August.
“And also it’s very difficult for the NHS leaders to plan if they don’t know until the last minute what exemptions are going to be in place or not.”
Junior doctors, who are striking during the governing party’s conference, are calling for “pay restoration” to 2008 levels, equivalent to a 35% rise. Consultants are looking for an above-inflation pay rise.
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Dr Tom Dolphin, a member of the British Medical Association’s consultants committee, told Sky News: “If you bring in the legislation to try and crush a very legitimate dispute like this, it doesn’t end the dispute, it just suppresses it and saves up problems for later.”
Labour has pledged to repeal the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Act.