Shropshire surgeon reveals support for strikes as BMA ballots over industrial action

As consultants are balloted on industrial action one county surgeon has revealed his support for the strikes – saying it is the only way to halt the exodus of NHS staff.

The ballot paper included in the tweet from county surgeon Mark Cheetham.
The ballot paper included in the tweet from county surgeon Mark Cheetham.

The British Medical Association is currently balloting consultants on potential strike action – in a move that could see them join junior doctors and some nurses in walking out in a dispute over pay.

Mark Cheetham, a Shrewsbury-based consultant in general and colorectal surgery, tweeted a picture of his ballot paper, including his vote in favour of action.

He included the comment: "Because we are not worth a third less than 14 years ago."

Mr Cheetham, who is the national clinical lead for general surgery at Getting It Right First Time (GIRFT), also revealed his reasoning behind the decision in a reply to a Twitter user opposed to strikes by doctors.

He said: "I understand the reluctance to strike and to be honest I never thought I would. Reluctantly I am voting for industrial action because I cannot see any other way to stem the flow of doctors leaving the UK and the NHS."

The ballot is set to close on June 27, and any vote to go ahead with strikes would likely cause major disruption for hospitals and patients across the country.

At the root of the BMA's dispute with the Government is the claim that pay for consultants has dropped by 35 per cent since 2008/09 – which it says is leading to more and more staff leaving the NHS.

Speaking when the ballot was confirmed earlier this month Dr Vishal Sharma, chair of the BMA consultants committee, said: “We have seen our take-home pay decline by 35 per cent since 2008/9 and this is even before the impact of this year’s soaring inflation has been considered. As a result of this, consultants are now effectively working four months of the year for free."

Dr Sharma said that the Government's offer had been rejected because it would have represented "another real terms pay cut", adding: "On the back of 15 years of our pay declining, we simply could not accept a deal that continued this downward trend and have been left with no option but to proceed today with the ballot for industrial action."

He continued: “No consultant wants to take industrial action. We went into these talks in a spirit of goodwill and were grateful for the constructive manner in which they were conducted by Government officials. However, ultimately the Government made a political choice to cut our pay again this year and unless we can secure a commitment that the Government will take the necessary steps to restore our pay over the long term, we simply cannot accept an offer that sees our pay fall even further.

“Consultants are not worth a third less than they were 15 years ago. With elective waiting lists standing at 7.3 million, we cannot afford to lose any more highly experienced clinicians who are leaving or taking breaks from the NHS due to pay erosion. NHS patients deserve better than an understaffed health service, and NHS staff deserve better than a Government which does not recognise their worth at a time of global shortages of skilled healthcare professionals."

Dr Sharma said the the door would "remain open" for talks during the ballot.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said it was asking the BMA to think about the potential impact of strike action on patients.

He said: "We hugely value the work of NHS consultants and they received a 4.5 per cent pay uplift last financial year increasing average earnings to around £128,000. They will also benefit from generous changes to pension taxation announced at budget and are eligible to apply for additional financial awards worth up to £40,000 a year as part of the NHS consultant contract.

"We urge the BMA to carefully consider the likely impact of any action on patients."

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