Members of the British Medical Association (BMA) have launched a four-day strike in a dispute about pay that the head of Christian Medical Fellow (CMF) says needs to be reconsidered.
Junior doctors in England are calling for a 35 per cent pay rise to compensate for 15 years of below-inflation wage rises.
The NHS Confederation estimates as many as 350,000 appointments and operations could be cancelled this week, as a result of the walkout.
The BMA has said it can't guarantee lives won't be put at risk as a result of the disruption but emergency and urgent care will be prioritised.
The government has called the demand 'unrealistic'. Health secretary Steve Barclay has said his "door is open" if striking junior doctors want to begin meaningful negotiations on pay - but claims their starting position is too high.
GP and CEO of CMF, Mark Pickering tells Premier he agrees.
“None of these junior doctors were actually junior doctors or even at medical school hardly in 2008 so going back 15 years is quite a big ask.”
Pickering argues that the BMA is making a mistake by choosing to focus purely on pay rather than the struggles facing junior doctors:
“A lot of it is down to junior doctors’ working conditions, the stress, they're under the workload, the intensity, whether the rotas are well staffed and other conditions. So it's much more complex.
“And yet, the BMA has chosen to focus purely on the pay, in terms of the aspect they're demanding of the government.”
The BMA has said that a lack of investment in wages by the government has made it harder to recruit and retain junior doctors. It has warned that “if junior doctors are forced out of the NHS because of poor pay and conditions, the services we all rely on to look after our loved ones will suffer."
Pickering says calls for fair pay increases and fair changes to work practises are “perfectly reasonable” but he believes the BMA’s “unaffordable” request is detrimental to health care professionals.
“The problem is that the BMA who's doing the negotiations, they have really been taken over internally by a really militant hard left faction, and the ask is unaffordable - I don't see how any government can agree to that.
“Especially when you've got the Royal College of Nursing, recommending acceptance of a 5% pay-off (plus some extra one offs), the rail workers have accepted 9% - the gap between that and what the BMA is asking for is just massive. It makes it harder for individuals because then in order to do something, you've got to go along with what the BMA is suggesting and I think that's unrealistic. But then if you say, ‘I don't want to take part the strikes’, that suggests that there isn't a problem.”
Pickering has encouraged Christians to join him in praying for a reasonable outcome from the negotiations, an adjustment in the BMA’s ask and a credible offer from the government.