Sympathy for striking doctors is “running low” with two-thirds of British adults backing the government’s public sector pay deals, a poll reveals.
Hospital consultants with an average income of £134,000 today launched a two-day strike that is expected to result in the cancellation of tens of thousands of appointments and operations.
Senior doctors are refusing to provide non-urgent care as they seek a 35 percent pay increase, with waiting lists at a record 7.47 million.
But polling data shared exclusively with the Mail reveals that 65 per cent of the public think ministers were right to give teachers, doctors and police officers pay increases of around 6 per cent in a bid to end the strike.
Meanwhile, Mick Lynch, the militant leader of the RMT rail union, told consultants to ‘keep fighting’ for more wages and to ‘play this dispute to the bitter end’.
Consultants are demonstrating outside hospitals and at the BMA headquarters in London, where they were joined this afternoon by Mick Lynch (pictured), the militant leader of the RMT rail union.
Nearly 700,000 NHS appointments have been canceled since the strikes began seven months ago. In the last five-day strike by young doctors, more than 100,000 were canceled
The award, which is higher than that awarded to nurses, prompted teachers’ unions to call off the strikes, but the British Medical Association dismissed it as “insulting” and “laughable”.
It comes as a new strike law was granted today, allowing ministers to impose minimum service levels during strike action by ambulance staff, firefighters, railway workers and those in other sectors deemed essential.
The consultants are meeting outside the hospitals and at the BMA headquarters in London, where they were joined this afternoon by Mr Lynch.
He told the consultants: ‘You have to keep fighting.
‘As soon as this payout round ends, there will be another payout round to come. So you have to fight for the financing of our society in the future.
‘Change is coming in this country, I can feel it out there.
“They told us that everyone would hate us a year ago. They told us that in a fortnight they would beat us, well, we haven’t won, but we are far from defeated.
“We are determined to get a deal for our people. We hope that the BMA is determined to reach an agreement for its people and take this dispute to the bitter end if necessary and fight for the future of our people and fight for our society.”
To loud applause, Lynch said that “part of that change” is to “get rid of” this government “as quickly as possible.”
The consultants’ strike follows a five-day strike by junior doctors, which ended on Tuesday and was the longest in NHS history.
Physicians-in-training have received a 6 per cent pay increase plus a consolidated payment of £1,250, which equates to an average increase of 8.1 per cent.
But they have promised to continue the strike every month until they receive a 35 percent inflation-busting rate.
The poll of 2,052 adults by think tank and pollster More in Common, conducted after last week’s wage award, found just 19 percent disagreed with the government figure, with broad support among supporters of all major political parties.
Some 45 percent say the young doctors are wrong to continue the strike in light of the hike, and just 38 percent say they are right to continue.
This is a significant reversal from an earlier poll in May, when 48% supported doctors and 35% said they should return to wards.
Luke Tryl, UK director of More in Common, said: “Having been offered a wage deal that the public sees as fair, if it is delayed, sympathy for the striking doctors seems to be wearing thin.”
“Support for the striking doctors has been reversed compared to our previous polls, suggesting that it is now the BMA and not the government that has to win the battle for public opinion.”
BMA consultant leaders have admitted using patients as “leverage” in their bid for higher wages and accept that the strikes will undermine Rishi Sunak’s promise to cut waiting times.
Health Secretary Steve Barclay said he was “disappointed” they had decided to go through with their action despite being granted a 6 per cent pay rise that will see their average earnings rise from £128,000 to £134,000 per year.
The health secretary said doctors have also benefited from recent changes to pension rules and could retire at 65 with an income of £60,000 a year.
Consulting members of the British Medical Association during a rally at the BMA headquarters in London on July 20.
Consulting members of the British Medical Association on the picket outside University College London on July 20
The consultants provide a “Christmas Day” level of service during their strike, which means they only provide urgent care.
The junior doctors’ strike was more thorough as they withdrew all care, including from cancer wards and A&E, but the impact of the latest action is likely to be greater as trainees are unable to step up to cover for absent senior colleagues.
Health leaders say this is likely to result in the health service coming to a virtual halt.
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents healthcare organisations, said the NHS will be on “red alert” and “adrift and rudderless” during the strike.
He added: “Several members have estimated that each previous round of industrial action by junior doctors has cost them around half a million pounds, so there is an ever-increasing financial cost that could run into many billions the longer the strikes continue.”
…Despite wages of £126,000
The consultants are seeking a 35 percent pay increase, which they say explains the decline in real terms in their take-home pay since 2008.
But Freedom of Information figures reveal that 80 per cent of senior doctors earn more than £102,000 a year, while 50 per cent earn more than £126,000.
Meanwhile, the top 10 per cent earn more than £176,000, which is more than the prime minister’s annual salary. The 6 per cent pay increase, announced last week, will mean the average salary for consultants will rise to £127,000 a year, Health Secretary Steve Barclay said.
The prize would be worth an average salary increase of £6,300. A senior doctor retiring at 65 could now also expect to receive a pension “in excess of £60,000 a year”.
Patient Sarah Goodchild, 57, felt “angry” after a hospital appointment made nine months ago for an endocrine condition was canceled due to the strike by NHS consultants and said she fears people will die as a result of industrial action.
Silversmith, from Norfolk, said: “The condition I have is not life-threatening or even life-limiting as such, but one of the possible causes of the hormonal imbalance is a pituitary tumor, effectively a brain tumour.”
“So if I have a brain tumor, I would really like to find out as soon as possible.”
Ms Goodchild said she “doesn’t have much sympathy” for the striking NHS consultants “given their high pay”.
She continued: ‘I see where nurses are coming from in terms of their salary, because obviously they are paid considerably less than doctors, and from my experience in hospitals, they do a lot more work.
‘I understand that young doctors feel particularly bad, you know that their starting salaries are low, but they increase dramatically during the first few years of their practice.
“I think people are going to die, not me, since I don’t have a life-threatening condition, but there are a lot of people who are going to have life-threatening conditions.
“This is going to cause detection delays, treatment delays, and I think people are going to die.”
The BMA says consultants’ pay has been cut in real terms since 2008 and is calling for pay restoration and reform of the pay review body that advises ministers on pay increases.
He says his income has risen 14 percent during this period, while lawyers, accountants and architects have seen increases of nearly 80 percent.
Dr Vishal Sharma, Chairman of the BMA Consultants Committee, said: “This dispute is not just about the one-year salary deal, it is about the reality of 14 years of delayed payment for consultants, our loss in our salary in real terms of 35 per cent and the broken pay review system that has allowed this to happen.
“There is absolutely no justification why the salaries of some of the country’s most veteran physicians have not kept pace with those of comparable professions.
“The consultants will be standing on the picket line today because we’re angry and we’re down.”