Wes Streeting bats off Labour leadership queries

Streeting says he does not support junior doctor strike and urges compromise

The shadow health secretary Wes Streeting has said he does not support the strike action scheduled to be taken by junior doctors in England next month.

The British Medical Association has announced a 96-hour walkout between April 11-15 in their fight to get a 35% pay rise in England.

The stoppage will start just after the Easter bank holiday weekend and run from 06.59 on Tuesday 11 April to 06.59 on Saturday 15 April and affect every NHS hospital in England.

It comes after BMA leaders met health secretary Steve Barclay on Wednesday for talks lasting for less than an hour. 

A deal offered to other NHS staff and backed by unions involves a 5% pay rise in April and a one-off payment of at least £1,655.

But the BMA has insisted only a 35% increase will do to make up for 15 years of below-inflation rises. Mr Barclay said the pay claim is “unaffordable”.

The BMA has also demanded free car parking, the abolition of exam fees and a guarantee that future pay rises would be linked to inflation.

It said the government had not put forward “any credible offer” in response to its claim.

Asked this morning whether he supported the strike, Mr Streeting told LBC Radio: “No, I don’t support the strike action. I don’t want the strikes to go ahead. I do think the junior doctors are making a fair argument around their pay and the fact that pay has not kept up with inflation”.

He added: “I have spent a lot of time on the frontline talking to junior doctors and to be honest I always feel quite sad when I have spoken to junior doctors because they are a bunch of professionals at the start of their career in the NHS really.

“They should be full of energy, they should be full of optimism about their future careers and they are feeling burned out, undervalued and they are feeling a financial pressure, especially if they are working in big cities”.

“I don’t think they are being unfair or unreasonable. I think that the headline pay demand they are making, I don’t think is achievable overnight and I have been honest with them about that.

“But I don’t want to see the strikes happen, I want to see the government come to a compromise so that the strikes do not need to go ahead.”

Announcing the strike action, Dr Robert Laurenson, who co-chairs the BMA’s junior doctor committee, said: “It is with disappointment and great frustration that we must announce this new industrial action. The government has dragged its feet at every opportunity.

“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'”.

Commenting on the new action, Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation which represents health service trusts, said: “Sadly, it is inevitable that this will impact on patient safety and dignity. Further industrial action will have a significant impact on patient care”.

Thousands of junior doctors staged a three-day strike from 6 to 8 March, which led to 175,000 outpatient appointments and operations being rescheduled.