Government considering minimum service levels during strikes

The government has announced it is considering introducing regulations that would require some doctors and nurses to work during strikes.

The government says this is to protect patient safety.

A consultation has launched which considers introducing minimum service levels (MSLs) that would cover urgent, emergency and time-critical hospital-based health services - which could cover hospital staff including nurses and doctors - and seeks views on a set of principles for setting MSLs in regulations. It will also seek evidence to inform decisions on the expansion and scope of MSLs.

The news comes as both junior doctors and consultants are striking at the same time.

Health and social care secretary Steve Barclay said: "This week’s co-ordinated and calculated strike action will create further disruption and misery for patients and NHS colleagues.

"My top priority is to protect patients and these regulations would provide a safety net for trusts and an assurance to the public that vital health services will be there when they need them.

"Doctors who started their hospital training this year are receiving a 10.3% pay increase, with the average junior doctor getting 8.8% and consultants are receiving a 6% pay rise alongside generous reforms to their pensions, which was the BMA’s number one ask.

"In the face of ongoing and escalating strike action, we will continue to take steps to protect patient safety and ensure the health service has the staff it needs to operate safely and effectively."

Professor Phil Banfield, chair of BMA council, said: “If this government was serious about patient safety, it would not have deliberately run down the health service over the last 10 years, with the terrible, adverse effects that austerity has had on the health of the nation every day. The BMA has been clear that any strike action taken by members preserves minimum levels of staffing to ensure patient safety. We have always maintained that consultants and junior doctors together, will never stage a full walk out and we have been clear that we are not planning to do so, with urgent and emergency care continuing to run. It is disingenuous for the Secretary of State to say otherwise.

“These regulations add further to what we’ve seen from this Government in attempting to stifle the right for doctors to act collectively and fight for better pay and conditions in their workplace. Even before the recent Strikes Bill, the UK has some of the tightest restrictions on trade union activity in Europe, and now with threats that could see individuals sacked if they do not comply with these new laws it feels like another kick in the teeth to our profession, the very experts this government needs to deliver on its waiting list promise to the public. NHS employer organisations have also warned that such restrictions could make dispute situations more difficult for them in terms of agreeing local service levels of staffing, meaning such changes would be entirely counterproductive.

“This week’s industrial action comes as a result of this Government failing to address the unprecedented staffing crisis that is engulfing our NHS, and betraying the doctors who they applauded through the pandemic, by failing to value the work they now do to help the NHS back into its feet. The only route to ending these strikes is for the Government to drop its opposition to negotiating a new pay deal and get round the table with doctors with a credible offer. Rather than focusing on strike days, ministers should be looking to make sure that our health service is safely staffed for 365 days a year.”