Junior doctors in England have agreed to formal talks with the government after a three-day strike this week in which more than 175,000 appointments and procedures had to be postponed, according to data published by NHS England.
The postponements had to be made to protect emergency, critical and urgent care for patients as a result of the industrial action on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
On Friday night the Department of Health and Social Care said the British Medical Association had agreed to enter negotiations on the same terms as unions representing nurses, ambulance staff and other NHS workers in talks that concluded this week.
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, a membership body for organisations that commission and provide NHS services, said: “NHS leaders have been warning that the junior doctors strike would have the biggest impact on cancelled operations and appointments, but these figures show it has been more disruptive than all the other strikes combined.
“With over 175,000 appointments and operations postponed, the impact has been huge and must prompt the government and BMA to get back round the table to bring an end to the dispute.”
Taylor added: “Over the last three days, demand seems to have been higher than expected, particularly in emergency departments, with one reporting that they averaged one patient arrival every four minutes.”
The BMA exchanged letters with the government following Thursday’s announcement of a new offer to other NHS workers.
The union is demanding “pay restoration” for junior doctors, who can have many years’ experience and make up about 45% of the workforce. It said their pay has fallen in real terms by 26% since 2008/09 and reversing this would require a 35.3% pay rise.
On Friday, a Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We deeply regret that over 175,000 appointments and procedures were cancelled this week, despite our offer to start formal talks on the condition strikes were paused.
“However, we are pleased the BMA has now accepted our offer to enter talks based on the same terms as with the agenda for change unions, which concluded positively this week.
“We want to find a fair settlement which recognises the crucial role of junior doctors and the wider economic pressures facing the UK, as we have done with other unions.”
Health secretary Steve Barclay’s pay offer to NHS unions on Thursday underlined that the government is now prepared to compromise after a months-long standoff in which ministers insisted there was no extra money for the current financial year.
NHS staff including nurses, porters and ambulance crews were offered a one-off bonus of up to 8.2% for this year and a pay rise of 5% from April, with more for the lowest paid.
In a statement posted on social media, the junior doctors’ representatives at the BMA confirmed they had written to Barclay offering to meet next week.
They acknowledged some members would have “reservations” about the suspension of industrial action, but said they were ready to return to the picket line in the event of a “substandard offer”.
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