Junior doctors in England could strike for three days in March if they vote for industrial action, it has been announced.

The British Medical Association (BMA) told the Government that if a ballot for industrial action is successful, junior doctors will begin their action with a “full walkout” lasting 72 hours in March.

The ballot begins across England on Monday but the BMA urged the Health Secretary to meet with doctors and negotiate a solution to avoid strikes.

Steve Barclay was the first Health Secretary for over 50 years to continue to “ignore” all invitations from the BMA to meet with doctors to discuss their pay, making attempts to find a negotiated settlement “virtually impossible”, the BMA said.

Junior doctors to strike for three days if vote passes

The BMA said successive governments have overseen 15 years of real terms pay cuts for junior doctors in England, amounting to a “staggering and unjustifiable” 26.1% decline in pay since 2008/09.

The BMA said patients were suffering and exhausted staff were burning out and deciding to leave the NHS but that the Government “fails to see the crisis in front of it”.

Ministers have been accused of ignoring all the evidence to the contrary and preferring to treat the public as “fools” with assurances that the NHS has all the resources it needs.

The Government’s door was “firmly shut to dialogue”, let alone negotiations therefore there was one option left – to ballot junior doctors in England for strike action, the BMA said.

Dr Vivek Trivedi and Dr Robert Laurenson, co-chairs of the BMA junior doctors committee, said: “The Prime Minister says his door and that of the Health Secretary, are ‘always open’.

“But after more than a decade of pay cuts no offer to restore our pay has been made, and all our calls to meet, and letters to the Health Secretary and his immediate predecessors, have been ignored.

“When we are faced with such resolute ongoing silence, and there is no agreed settlement on the table, then we are left with no choice but to act.

Junior doctors are not worth a quarter less than they were 15 years ago nor do they deserve to be valued so little by their own Government.

“Pay erosion, exhaustion and despair are forcing junior doctors out of the NHS, pushing waiting lists even higher as patients suffer needlessly.

“The Government’s refusal to address 15 years of pay erosion has given junior doctors no choice but to ballot for industrial action.

“If the Government won’t fight for our health service, then we will.

“It is particularly galling for junior doctors to see the government repeatedly justify huge real terms pay cuts for NHS staff by claiming that these have been made by so-called ‘independent’ pay review bodies, free from government interference.

“The reality is that the doctors’ pay review body has been constrained by political interference for more than a decade.

Bournemouth Echo: Junior doctors could strike for three days in MarchJunior doctors could strike for three days in March (Image: PA)

“Even after recommendations have been made to increase junior doctors’ pay, the Government has completely ignored them and has asked the pay review body to completely exclude junior doctors from its recommendations.

“When even the pay review process – broken as it is – is telling ministers to act, you know something has gone seriously wrong.”

During the strike, junior doctors will not be providing emergency care meaning trusts will need to arrange emergency cover to ensure patient safety, the BMA said.

“We will be giving trusts and the Government enough notice to prepare for this.

“This is to ensure that patients whose appointments are cancelled know well in advance and to ensure that employers can manage their medical rotas appropriately to ensure emergency care is no different to any other day,” said the BMA.

The ballot is set to open ahead of fresh strikes by ambulance staff and nurses over pay and staffing in the coming weeks.

Miriam Deakin, director of policy at NHS Providers said: “The announcement by the BMA that junior doctors could begin their action with a 72-hour full walkout in March, with no emergency cover if a ballot is successful, is deeply worrying.

“However, the ballot for industrial action by junior doctors is yet to open and it’s important not to pre-empt the outcome.

“Should junior doctors vote for industrial action, trust leaders will do everything they can to minimise disruption and prioritise the safe delivery of care and services for patients.

“Trust leaders are very concerned about the possibility of prolonged or co-ordinated strike action by health unions in the coming months.

“They also understand the factors that have driven junior doctors and other healthcare workers to ballot on industrial action.

“We are reiterating our plea to both the Government and union leaders to get around the table and find an agreed solution, including on pay, as soon as possible.

“Prolonged action is something everyone wants to avoid.”