Senior doctors in England may refuse to do overtime if the government doesn’t improve the ‘insulting’ 1% pay rise.
The threat of industrial action comes after the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said it was also prepared to strike over the offer, described by NHS staff as ‘pitiful’ and a ‘slap in the face’.
The British Medical Association (BMA) is to ask members about halting paid and unpaid overtime if the pay offer is not closer to 4%.
Dr Vishal Sharma, the deputy chair of the BMA consultants committee, stressed the move would not leave patients unsupported and would only apply to extra work doctors ‘are struggling to do’.
He told BBC’s Radio Four: ‘Consultants are absolutely burned out and experiencing high levels of fatigue and stress at the moment – and this is on the back of consultants having the worst pay erosion of any group.
‘We absolutely understand how difficult this is. To be clear, consultants would not down tools. They would not leave patients unsupported and not looked after, but what we are talking about is really that kind of extra work that people are struggling to do and they are feeling underappreciated.’
Sharma said that consultants recognised the stress on patients at the moment but there came a point when it was necessary to ‘take control’.
‘Otherwise, when is this going to end? Goodwill is the glue that holds the NHS together and the government risks losing it. If it goes, services may collapse in the future.’
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Disgraced former Health Secretary Matt Hancock said in March that a decision to recommend the 1% increase was prompted by an assessment of ‘what’s affordable as a nation’ after the economic hit caused by the coronavirus crisis.
Unions are pressing for a much bigger increase in recognition of how staff have responded to the pandemic, warning that the ‘insulting’ rise may lead staff to quit their jobs.
The proposed 1% rise would cover nearly all hospital staff, but not GPs and dentists.
Consultants, who are at the top end on NHS salary scales because of their years of experience and leadership, have not got involved in public pay disputes till now.
The BMA said hospital consultants in England are ‘exhausted and demoralised’ and deserve a pay rise of at least 5% rather than the government’s ‘derisory’ 1% proposal.
The organisation said below inflation rises have led to the estimated value of take-home pay falling by 28.6% in the last 10 years for the average consultant.
At the same time, consultants are typically working between an extra 10% and 20% over their contracted hours each week, often unpaid.
Dr Sharma said doctors ‘feel a huge sense of obligation’ to stay late to help colleagues care ‘for often huge numbers of patients waiting to be treated or be seen’.
Pressure is likely to get worse as the health service grapples with the biggest patient backlog on record.
Last month, the number of people waiting for hospital treatment in England exceeded 5 million for the first time, highlighting the growing problem of long waits for care.
Dr Sharma said: ‘It is therefore essential to maintain the goodwill of consultants so that they can help to clear the patient backlog, undertake additional waiting list clinics and take on extra weekend work.
‘Instead, with its suggestion of a pay award of 1%, an effective pay-cut, the Government has left consultants feeling angry and undervalued.
‘It is within the gift of ministers to award NHS staff a fair pay award and to demonstrate that consultants are valued and avoid any potential disputes at a time when extra capacity in the NHS is crucial.’
Pay review bodies covering most NHS workers have made recommendations which have not yet been published.
In England, ministers must decide whether in the light of those reports they will increase their proposed 1% offer.
The RCN has called for a 12.5% pay rise for nurses this year, arguing the investment is crucial to prevent an exodus from the profession amid chronic staff shortages.
Last month, an ICU nurse who cared for Boris Johnson revealed she had quit over the lack of respect shown by the government towards the NHS.
Devolved nations have already vowed to increase pay by more than 1%, adding extra pressure on the government for staff in England.
Wales’ health minister Eluned Morgan said said she felt there was ‘an obligation’ to offer a pay boost of more than 1%, but she would not be drawn in on how much.
In Northern Ireland all NHS staff have been offered a £500 bonus this year. Bonuses have also been offered in Scotland where longer-term pay negotiations are going on.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: ‘We are incredibly grateful to all our NHS staff. This year the Government has committed to providing a pay uplift for NHS staff, including consultants, when uplifts across the public sector have been paused, to acknowledge the extraordinary effort of NHS staff through the pandemic.
‘We recognise the recommendations from the pay review bodies are an incredibly important issue and we will carefully consider them before responding.’
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