20 August 2023

Scottish Government offers to mediate junior doctor strike talks

20 August 2023

Scotland’s Health Secretary has offered to his UK counterpart to mediate talks between the Government and junior doctors.

In a letter to UK Health Secretary Steve Barclay, Michael Matheson said patients in England were “suffering” as strikes continued.

The offer comes after junior medics in Scotland voted in favour of an offer from the Scottish Government to boost pay by 12.4%, bringing an end to the risk of strikes.

Relations between the UK Government and junior doctor unions have become tense as five walkouts have been staged in recent months.

In his letter, Mr Matheson said: “As you may be aware in NHS Scotland, we have not had any strikes.

“The reason for this is that we have engaged seriously and respectfully with trade union and staff representatives on their concerns. Our discussions were frank and honest.

“As is the nature of any negotiation there is, by necessity, compromise needed on all sides. It has been deeply challenging, but the cost of not doing so is plain for all to see in their impact on services to NHS England patients.”

He added: “I appreciate that due to the intransigence of the UK Government on these matters relations with the BMA junior doctors committee are at an appallingly low level.

I would like to offer the services of myself and my officials to mediate new talks between the UK Government and the BMA junior doctors’ representatives

“I know that our opposite numbers in Wales have engaged with the BMA but face financial constraints brought about by the Barnett consequentials, and the failure of the UK Government to properly fund these pay deals in England.

“To help break the impasse, I would like to offer the services of myself and my officials to mediate new talks between the UK Government and the BMA junior doctors’ representatives.

“Given the low ebb of relations between the UK Government and the representatives of NHS England staff, I believe such mediation may be necessary to bring these matters to a conclusion that benefits patients.

“The Scottish Government will be happy to host such talks either in Edinburgh or London.

“The first step would be for the UK Government to return to the negotiating table without preconditions being placed on the BMA.

“The second step would be for the UK Government to come forward with a realistic offer on pay and conditions – I believe the deal accepted in Scotland may provide a suitable model.

“It must also be recognised that these are matters that go beyond just pay.

“The longer the action continues due to the UK Government refusing to engage, it is patients in England that are suffering.”

The offer could be seen as a response to a recent approach from the UK Health Secretary to the ministers in Scotland and Wales, saying patients could come to England for treatment to bring down waiting lists in the devolved administrations, which drew criticism from Edinburgh and Cardiff as well as from opposition politicians.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Social Care did not engage with the offer for talks, saying: “We’re giving doctors in training a fair and reasonable pay rise, as recommended by the independent pay review body, with an average increase of around 8.8% which is above what most in the public and private sectors are receiving.

“This is expected to increase average pay for NHS doctors in training by £3,800 to around £47,600.

“Our award, which is final and in line with what other public sector workers have accepted, balances the need to keep inflation in check while recognising the incredibly important work they do.”

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