NHS health pay strike doctors UK
Health workers protest about pay during joint strike action by consultants and junior doctors outside St Thomas' Hospital in central London, UK last year.. Image Credit: Bloomberg file

LONDON: Junior doctors in England will strike just days before the general election, their union announced Wednesday, as a protracted pay battle with the Conservative government threatens to intrude on the culmination of the campaign.

Junior doctors - those below specialist, consultant level - will walk out from early on June 27 until early on July 2 over their long-running dispute over pay, the British Medical Association (BMA) said.

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Voters will head to the polls across the UK on July 4, with the Labour opposition widely expected to oust the ruling Tories.

The strike follows nearly a dozen similar actions by junior doctors over the last 18 months, which included the longest walkout - totalling six days - in the seven-decade history of Britain’s National Health Service (NHS).

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The country has been hit by various walkouts across numerous sectors in recent years, as decades-high inflation in 2023 and a cost-of-living crisis led staff to demand pay rises to keep up with spiralling prices.

The government, quasi-public agencies and private sector firms have resolved many of the pay disputes, but some remain outstanding, such as with the junior doctors.

They have been asking for 35 percent “pay restoration” as a starting position, with the BMA insisting it is willing to negotiate.

The UK government, which is responsible for health policy in England, has said their demands are unaffordable amid stretched public finances.

Responding to the latest strike announcement, Health Secretary Victoria Atkins said the Conservatives had “taken the tough decisions to keep public spending down to bear down on inflation”.

Reflecting the highly politicised nature of the dispute ahead of the election, she demanded Labour condemn the walkout.

“Labour would be in the hands of their union paymasters - meaning more spending and higher taxes,” she added.

Labour leader Keir Starmer said it was “unforgiveable” ministers had not reached a pay settlement with junior doctors.

“Obviously, I don’t want the strike to go ahead,” he added while campaigning in western England.

“But if we are privileged enough to come in to serve, then it will fall to us to settle this and to come to an agreement.”