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Senior Doctors in England Vote to Strike but Nurses Set to End Industrial Action

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Senior doctors in England have voted in favour of taking industrial action, but the threat of more strikes by nurses has ended after a union ballot failed to meet the legal threshold.

The British Medical Association (BMA) said on Tuesday that 86 percent of its members backed industrial action on a turnout of 71 percent, well above the legal threshold of 50 percent.

The BMA said that unless the government makes a “credible” pay offer, hospital consultants will take part in industrial action on July 20 and 21—just days after junior doctors in England are due to strike for five days over pay.

The announcement came just hours after the threat of more strikes by nurses ended because a ballot on further industrial action failed to meet the legal threshold.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said 84 percent of its members who voted backed more strikes.

But only 43 percent took part in the ballot, so it failed to reach the legal threshold of 50 percent required by the 2016 Trade Union Act.

‘Furious’ Doctors

The BMA said take-home pay for consultants in England has fallen by 35 percent since 2008/2009.

Dr. Vishal Sharma, BMA consultants committee chair, said “consultants are not worth a third less than we were 15 years ago,” adding that the vote shows how “furious” they are at being “repeatedly devalued” by the government.

“Consultants don’t want to have to take industrial action, but have been left with no option in the face of a government that continues to cut our pay year after year,” he said.

The consultants’ industrial action will take the form of Christmas Day cover, meaning that most routine and elective services will be cancelled but full emergency cover will remain in place.

‘Double Whammy’

NHS Providers, which represents NHS trusts, said the “double whammy” of strikes by consultants and junior doctors will be a “huge risk” and will cause “disruption for many thousands of patients and yet more pressure on overstretched services.”

Sir Julian Hartley, the organisation’s chief executive, called on the government and the doctors’ unions to “settle their differences and find a way through.”

A Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) spokesperson said: “We hugely value the work of NHS consultants and it is disappointing the BMA consultants have voted to take strike action.

“Consultants received a 4.5 percent pay uplift last financial year, increasing average earnings to around £128,000, and they will benefit from generous changes to pension taxation announced at budget.”

The DHSC urged the BMA to “carefully consider the likely impact of any action on patients,” and called on the union to “come to the negotiating table rather than proceeding with their proposed strike dates.”

‘Far from Over’

Despite the end of nurses’ strikes, the RCN said its fight is “far from over.”

RCN general secretary Pat Cullen said in an email to members: “While this will be disappointing for many of you, the fight for the fair pay and safe staffing that our profession, our patients, and our NHS deserves, is far from over.”

RCN members were among a minority of health staff who rejected the government’s pay deal of a 5 percent rise and a lump sum of at least £1,655.

Most health unions accepted the offer, although the Unite union is still in dispute.

A DHSC spokesperson said: “We hugely value the work of nurses and welcome the end to hugely disruptive industrial action so staff can continue caring for patients and cutting waiting lists.

“More than one million eligible NHS staff are receiving their pay rise and one-off payments this month, with an experienced nurse receiving over £5,100 in extra pay across last year and this year.”

The spokesperson added, “We hope other unions who remain in dispute with the government recognise it is time to stop industrial action and move forward together.”

PA Media contributed to this report.

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