Health Secretary refused to suspend junior doctors’ strike over ‘how it would look in Daily Mail’

Junior doctors are on strike for the 10th time since the dispute began nearly a year ago

Victoria Atkins

The Health Secretary has been accused of telling junior doctors to continue strike action, because she feared how it would look in the Daily Mail if it seemed she was offering the union a mandate. 

Victoria Atkins was apparently more concerned about the tabloid papers than stopping the latest round of industrial action in England, according to the British Medical Association (BMA), as NHS doctors continue their strike action. 

Junior doctors in England are taking their tenth round of strikes since the dispute began nearly a year ago, calling for a pay restoration and improved working conditions in the NHS. 

Speaking to Sky News, Dr Robert Laurenson, co-chair of the BMA junior doctors committee told the presenter that the Health Secretary made a “shocking” remark, referring to ‘how it would look in the Daily Mail’ if she was seen to expand the unions’ mandate. 

“Unfortunately the Secretary of State, who said she would meet us back in December, said she’d meet us within 20 minutes and had another offer to give, took about 20 days and said there was no further offer up her sleeve,” said Dr Laurenson.

“We tried to understand what had gone wrong and how we could use more time to negotiate. We offered to suspend this round of strike action, to be on an equal footing. But the secretary of state actually refused and decided to ask us to continue striking.”

The Sky News presenter replied: “I’m sure she’d say she didn’t ask you to continue striking”.

Dr Laurenson responded: “The shocking thing that she said when we offered to suspend the strikes, she said ‘but how would that look in the Daily Mail’.

“She said she’d rather us strike than be seen to allow us to have a longer mandate.”

The Health Secretary would do better listening to the will of the public rather than the media, with most recently polling by Savanta finding the majority of people support junior doctors taking strike action (53%) in their fight for better pay, more than double those who oppose. 

Workers in the NHS have continued to raise the alarm about dire working conditions and the struggle to retain workers amid a decade of under-funding and cuts to the NHS. Junior doctors have seen their real terms pay cut by 26% from 2008/09 to 2021/22, according to the BMA. 

This Wednesday is the final day of the latest round of strike action by junior doctors in England, who have gone on a five day walkout which started February 24. 

The BMA has warned to expect its members’ mandate for industrial action to be renewed into the autumn as resolve remains high.

​Co-chairs Laurenson and Trivedi said: “With the strength of determination shown by junior doctors across the country we fully expect to see that mandate renewed into the autumn. The time to end this dispute is now.”

Hannah Davenport is news reporter at Left Foot Forward, focusing on trade unions and environmental issues

Comments are closed.