(Bloomberg) — Junior hospital doctors in the state-run National Health Service in England voted to strike over government plans to impose a new contract that will change the way they’re paid, reducing compensation for weekend working.
The doctors’ labor union, the British Medical Association, polled more than 37,000 junior medics and 98 percent backed strike action, the organization said on its website Thursday. Only 564 opposed the strike. Doctors will provide emergency care only for 24 hours starting at 8 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 1, and will then stage two full-scale nine-hour strikes on Dec. 8 and Dec. 16. The BMA says the government proposal will remove safeguards on doctors’ hours, risking patients’ lives.
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The move is a direct challenge to U.K. Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who sent a letter to junior doctors earlier this month saying that no one will have their pay cut and three-quarters of them will see their compensation increased. The new contracts, due to start coming into force next year, provide for an 11 percent increase in basic pay. Hunt says the contract will also shorten the working week. The government has made improving health services at weekends one of its priorities for the NHS.
“We regret the inevitable disruption that this will cause, but it is the government’s adamant insistence on imposing a contract that is unsafe for patients in the future, and unfair for doctors now and in the future, that has brought us to this point,” Mark Porter, the chair of the BMA Council, said in a statement. “It is still possible to get back around the negotiating table to deliver a contract that is safe for patients, contains the necessary contractual safeguards to prevent junior doctors being overworked and properly recognizes evening and weekend work.”