UK’s doctors go on strike as ministers consider tougher rules

UK doctors have staged a two-day strike over pay and conditions as the British government considers minimum service level rules to stop the danger of “coordinated and calculated strike action.”

English senior doctors, known as consultants, began a 48-hour walkout on Tuesday and will be joined by junior doctors on Wednesday.

This is the first time both groups have held a strike on the same day.

The doctors are due to hold three further days of joint strike action next month.

In reaction to the doctor’s move, the government said on Tuesday that it was considering forcing some healthcare staff to work in hospitals during their co-workers’ industrial action.

No. 10 passed legislation in July that forces striking workers in key sectors such as rail and fire services to provide minimum levels of service during industrial action, but this did not apply to medical workers.

The British government claims around 900,000 appointments in the state-run National Health Service (NHS) have already been cancelled as a result of doctor strikes this year alone.

Worst case scenario

British ministers are proposing the introduction of “minimum service level” regulations for doctors and nurses, meaning they would be forced to work during industrial action if public safety was at risk of being compromised.

UK Health Secretary, Steve Barclay, said this measure was required to counter the “coordinated and calculated strike action” by junior and senior doctors at the same time.

The bill for minimum standards for passenger rail services, ambulance services and fire and rescue services was passed in July, to ensure essential services remain in place.

Britain’s Trades Union Congress (TUC) lodged a complaint with the United Nations against the government’s controversial anti-strike law, which the union said was illegal.

In the meantime, UK health service leaders warned of growing “public frustration” over the strikes, with hospitals often unable to tell patients when their operation or appointment will be rescheduled.

Matthew Taylor, the chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said, “The worst-case scenario of NHS consultants and junior doctors walking out together has become a terrible reality.

The NHS Confederation has warned that “many hospitals are having to routinely cancel operations that have already been cancelled at least once – sometimes as many as three times”, adding, “The clear risk is that the health of some patients will deteriorate the longer they are left to wait.”

Taylor said the impending “dangerous situation” that the government of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is neglecting is when the huge number of cancelled operations and appointments shows results.

“This is much worse than before as we’re now seeing patients who have already had an operation cancelled due to industrial action be hit again with a cancellation to their rescheduled appointment,” he said, adding, “Leaders have also told us that this time round a higher number of operations and appointments for cancer patients are being cancelled, meaning that some of the very sickest patients may be suffering the most.”

Taylor called on the UK leadership to take the demands of striking doctors in the British Medical Association seriously and settle the dispute over wages and conditions before the situation gets any grimmer than it is already.

Britain has been rocked by months of nationwide strikes with government employees in all sectors demanding better wages to meet the rising inflation rate.

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