Senior doctors in England agree pay deal with UK government that will end year-long dispute

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LONDON — Senior doctors in England have accepted a pay offer from the British government that ends a yearlong dispute with unprecedented strike action.

The British Medical Association and the Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association, which represent the senior doctors, who are known as consultants, said Friday that 83% of those casting a vote backed the offer.

The pay increases will see those who have been consultants between four and seven years getting a 2.85% uplift. It also addresses some gender pay issues in the state-owned National Health Service and enhances parental leave options

Consultants have held several strikes over the past year, which has hobbled the NHS as it tries to grapple with financial constraints and the backlogs caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr. Vishal Sharma, who chairs the BMA consultants committee, said the fight was “not yet over” and that there is “some way to go” before pay gets back to equivalent levels 15 years ago. The relative decline in pay for consultants has, he said, led to an exodus of senior doctors abroad.

Junior doctors — those at the early stages of their careers, who form the backbone of hospital and clinical care as they train up to be specialists in a particular field — remain in dispute with the government and have walked off the job for days at a time, with their senior colleagues drafted in to cover for emergency services, critical care and maternity services during the strikes.

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said leaders in the health service will “breathe a sigh of relief” that consultants have settled but urged the government and junior doctors to come to an agreement.

“The potential for further junior doctor strikes looms large, which could lead to more operations and appointments being canceled and place more pressure on already stretched services,” he said.

NHS figures show more than 1.4 million appointments and operations have been canceled over the past year of industrial action, with even more patients joining waiting lists.

Britain has endured a year of rolling strikes across the health sector as staff sought pay rises to offset the soaring cost of living. Unions say wages, especially in the public sector, have fallen in real terms over the past decade, and double-digit inflation in late 2022 and early 2023, fueled by sharply rising food and energy prices, left many workers struggling to pay their bills.

On Friday, for example, much of England had no train services because of a fresh strike by drivers in their own long-running pay dispute.

Many groups within the NHS, such as nurses and ambulance crews, have reached pay deals with the government, but the union representing junior doctors has held out, and negotiations broke down late last year.

Britain’s Conservative government has sought to put the blame for many of the problems in the NHS on the junior doctors, while the main opposition Labour Party, which is way ahead in opinion polls ahead of a general election, points the finger at Prime Minister Rishi Sunak for personally blocking progress.

Sunak said the end of the consultants’ strike is “excellent news for patients.”

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