Junior doctors will stage a 96-hour strike next month after pay talks with ministers broke down.
Bosses at the British Medical Association (BMA), which is orchestrating the walkout, said it will take place between 7am on April 11 and 7am on April 15.
This means the strike action will come just after the Bank Holiday weekend when the NHS will be offering a ‘Christmas Day’ level of service, traditionally a busy period for the health service.
Union officials argued the decision to strike once again was sparked by the lack of a ‘credible offer’. Junior doctors want an inflation-busting 35 per cent.
Dr Vivek Trivedi and Dr Robert Laurenson, co-chairs of the BMA’s junior doctor committee, said they announced the new industrial action with ‘disappointment and great frustration’.
Junior doctors on a picket line outside St Thomas’ Hospital in central London during their first strike earlier this month
Representatives from the British Medical Association told Health Secretary Steve Barclay (pictured) they would be unwilling to accept anything less than a 35 per cent pay rise
‘The Government has dragged its feet at every opportunity,’ they said.
‘It has not presented any credible offer and is refusing to accept that there is any case for pay restoration, describing our central ask as “unrealistic” and “unreasonable”.
‘Even yesterday they continued to add new unacceptable preconditions to talks instead of getting on and trying to find a resolution.’
They added that, as result of this, they had ‘no confidence’ that further negotiation would be successful.
BMA officials said blame for the new strike action rested solely with the Government, which has already managed to stump up an offer for other unions that have held strikes this winter.
‘We want to spend our time looking after patients, not on strike,’ a spokesman said.
‘But with an NHS buckling under a workforce crisis, and four in ten junior doctors looking to leave, we can’t stand by while our pay is further eroded by inflation and an intransigent Government.
‘We are not going to stop until we are paid what we are worth, and if ministers don’t accept that when we tell them in person, we will have to tell them from the picket line.’
Talks between the the BMA, described as ‘militant’ by its critics, and Health Secretary Steve Barclay collapsed after they said they were unwilling to accept anything less than a 35 per cent pay rise.
They also demanded free car parking, the abolition of exam fees and a guarantee that future pay rises would be linked to inflation.
Almost 325,000 operations and appointments have been cancelled because of NHS strikes this winter
Mr Barclay told the doctors yesterday to go away and ‘reflect’ on how they wish to proceed, adding that there is no point in further talks until they are willing to give ground.
The BMA has now responded with the announcement of the new strike dates, that are even longer than previous industrial action.
This will be the second time that junior medics have walked out in the current dispute over pay.
A similar three-day strike held last week led to the cancellation of over 175,000 NHS appointments and procedures. It saw them leave A&E wards, maternity services and cancer units.
The newly announced action is likely to have a similar, if not greater, impact.
NHS England said around 28,700 doctors below the rank of consultant were absent from work each day as a result of last week’s industrial action.
The strike action is part of the BMA’s campaign for ‘pay restoration’ for junior doctors.
Industrial action by junior doctors has a particularly large impact on the NHS as they make up about 45 per cent of the medical workforce.
Junior medics have been dubbed the ‘backbone of the NHS’ because of the sheer amount of day-to-day work they do across the health service such as ordering tests and scans, and reviewing and discharging patients.
This also helps free up more experienced medics to take on specific specialised patients or more complex cases.
NHS Providers deputy chief executive Saffron Cordery said the prospect of a 96-hour walkout by junior doctors will ‘ring alarm bells’ for the health service, in particular due to the timing.
‘It would immediately follow a four-day bank holiday weekend, meaning demand will have piled up before the strike even begins on 11 April,’ she said.
‘There will also be no exemptions. This threatens the biggest disruption from NHS walkouts so far.’
She called for both the Government and the BMA to urgently re-enter talks in ‘good faith’.
‘There should be no doubt about the scale of the impact on patients, staff and the NHS. No one wants this,’ she said.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘Further strikes will risk patient safety and cause further disruption.’
They added while the door remains open for ‘constructive conversations’ the BMA’s pre-condition of talks focusing on a 35 per cent pay rise was ‘unreasonable’.
The BMA’s latest move comes just days after it revealed it was considering plans for a nationwide GP strike.
Options being considered by the union, on an as yet unannounced ballot, could include a 24-hour shutdown of GP surgeries in England.
The union is considering the move be in protest against an ‘insulting’ NHS contract, billed as being the end of Brits’ hated 8am scramble for appointments.
A separate pay dispute, with NHS staff including nurses, physiotherapists and ambulance staff, is currently paused with union members voting on a pay deal which includes a one-off bonus of up to £3,800 and a 5 per cent pay rise for next year.
However, some NHS union members are organising a revolt over what they described as a ‘paltry’ offering from ministers.
A cross-union group called NHS Workers Say No has already sent out thousands of leaflets, held online calls and started WhatsApp networks to persuade members to reject the deal.
The deal came after months of wrangling, with ministers offering the £4billion deal to unions in a bid to end the strikes that have crippled hospitals and led to the cancellation of over 100,000 procedures this winter.