NHS consultants could strike this summer after their pleas for an inflation-busting pay rise were rejected.
The British Medical Association (BMA) claimed take-home pay is 35 per cent lower than it was 15 years ago and called for an offer that ‘went some way toward making up for the decline we have seen’.
Ministers have refused to cave into such demands, however.
BMA officials are now balloting thousands of consultants on whether they want to strike in the coming months, in a move that could see them join junior doctors and nurses on picket lines and add to the chorus of chaos which has engulfed the ailing health service over the past six months.
It has seen waiting lists for routine ops have spiralled to a record high of 7.33million.
The doctors’ union BMA warned strikes by consultants would be far more damaging than the recent junior doctor walk-outs (pictured are junior doctors picketing outside Southend University Hospital on April 14)
Dr Vishal Sharma (pictured), who chairs the BMA consultants committee, said consultants’ take-home pay has declined by ’35 per cent since 2008/09′
Insiders fear any walk-outs by consultants would cause even more carnage than the ones orchestrated by the BMA’s thousands of junior doctors.
Consultants can provide emergency cover for junior colleagues, easing some strain hospitals consequently feel during days of action.
Yet, because the opposite agreement is not currently allowed within the NHS, tens of thousands more appointments and operations could be cancelled.
A union source told The Telegraph a consultants’ strike would be ‘catastrophic’ for the NHS.
Consultants earn £128,000 each year, on average, according to the Department of Health.
Dr Vishal Sharma, who chairs the BMA consultants committee, said: ‘We have seen our take-home pay decline by 35 per cent since 2008/9 and this is even before the impact of this year’s soaring inflation has been considered.
‘As a result of this, consultants are now effectively working four months of the year for free.’
He said that over the weekend, the union was hopeful that a pay offer which ‘went some way toward making up for the decline’ would have been secured.
‘Unfortunately, however, given that inflation remains in double digits, the final offer from Government represented yet another real-terms pay cut,’ Dr Sharma added.
‘On the back of 15 years of our pay declining, we simply couldn’t accept a deal that continued this downward trend, and have been left with no option but to proceed today with the ballot for industrial action.’
The ballot of 40,000 consultants closes on June 27.
The BMA will be required to give a fortnight’s notice of any strike action, if voted for.
It has not been confirmed by either the BMA or the Government exactly what the pay demands are.
But the BMA’s junior doctors committee pushed for a 35 per cent hike on the back of data showing they had endured a 26 per cent real-terms cut.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘We hugely value the work of NHS consultants and they received a 4.5% pay uplift last financial year, increasing average earnings to around £128,000.
Official NHS figures on the number of patients waiting for treatment is likely to be exacerbated by the three-day junior doctor walkout in March, which saw more than 175,000 patient appointment and surgeries cancelled
Official figures showed 7.33million were left waiting for operations such as as hip and knee replacements at the end of March. The backlog is up from 7.22million in February and marks the highest total since NHS records began in August 2007. Almost 360,000 patients have endured year-long waits for their routine treatment, often while in pain.
‘They will also benefit from generous changes to pension taxation announced at Budget and are eligible to apply for additional financial awards worth up to £40,000 a year as part of the NHS consultant contract.
‘We urge the BMA to carefully consider the likely impact of any action on patients.’
It comes after the nursing union leader yesterday demanded a double-digit pay rise amid the threat of more strikes lasting until Christmas.
Pat Cullen, head of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), previously advised members to accept a pay rise of five per cent offered by the Government – before 54 per cent of them voted against it.
In a U-turn on her earlier position, Ms Cullen said fresh talks on a percentage pay rise needed to ‘start in double figures’. The union is set to reballot its members on May 23 for further strike action.
Yesterday Cabinet minister Grant Shapps said her position was ‘confusing’.
The majority of unions making up the NHS Staff Council voted earlier this month to accept the five per cent pay deal and a one-off bonus of up to £3,789 for last year.
But RCN members voted against the recommendation, so will keep pushing for a higher wage rise.
The fresh threat of strike chaos comes at a time when NHS backlogs are worse than ever.
Official figures show 7.33million were left waiting for operations such as as hip and knee replacements at the end of March.
The backlog is up from 7.22million in February and marks the highest total since NHS records began in August 2007.