British doctors begin three-day strike over pay dispute

LONDON, March 13 (Reuters) – Thousands of junior doctors in England went on a three-day strike on Monday that will disrupt patient care as they protest pay they say can train for less an hour than a barista.

The strike is the latest to involve staff at Britain’s state-funded National Health Service (NHS), following walkouts by nurses, paramedics and others demanding a pay rise that better reflects double-digit inflation levels.

The NHS will prioritize emergency care during the strike, which could come at the expense of routine appointments, operations and even some urgent cancer treatments, NHS England’s national medical director Stephen Powis said.

“This is probably the most disruptive set of industrial action days that we’ve seen all winter,” Powis told Times Radio.

“It’s going to be a tough three days and it’s going to be quite challenging.”

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Junior doctors in the UK are qualified doctors, often with years of experience.

The British Medical Association (BMA) trade union says starting pay for junior doctors can be as low as 14.09 pounds ($17.04) an hour, a penny less than the highest pay level for a barista at British coffee chain Pret A Manger.

Junior doctors agreed a 2% annual pay rise in 2019 as part of a four-year deal, but say it is now insufficient in the face of much higher inflation. Last month, 98% of the nearly 37,000 who took part in the BMA’s strike ballot voted in favour.

Robert Laurenson, co-chair of the BMA’s Junior Doctors Committee, said they had seen real pay fall over the past 15 years due to the public sector pay freeze.

“We’re just asking for that wage to be restored, and it looks like something like 19 pounds an hour,” he told Reuters at a picket line in London.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is under pressure to help end walkouts by health workers, which also hinders one of his top priorities of cutting long waiting lists for treatment.

Health Minister Steve Barclay invited the BMA to formal pay talks on Friday.

“We stand ready to have those discussions and encourage them to come and engage with us,” Barclay told reporters Monday. “I don’t think a 35% salary requirement is affordable.”

A wider wave of strikes in Britain involving hundreds of thousands of public sector workers comes at a time of strained public finances and as Sunak’s government prepares to deliver a budget on Wednesday.

($1 = 0.8271 pounds)

Reporting by Sachin Ravikumar and Natalie Thomas; Editing by Kylie MacLellan and Alex Richardson

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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