Thousands of young doctors resigned from their jobs in England on Wednesday, dealing another blow to the country's already reeling National Health Service and raising concerns about a series of canceled medical appointments and surgeries.
The strike, which began at 7am and was scheduled to last six days, will be the longest labor strike to date by doctors, who have clashed with the government over pay and working conditions since December 2022. It comes at a particularly difficult moment for the health service, when flu and other illnesses: emergency rooms, outpatient clinics, and other medical facilities.
Junior doctors – qualified doctors still in clinical training – are seeking a 35% pay rise, which they say is needed to counter a fall of more than 25% in real wages since 2008.
The government has settled wage disputes with nurses and ambulance workers, but its standoff with the union representing young doctors has been particularly difficult to resolve.
The waiting list for procedures in NHS hospitals has reached 7.7 million people, up from 4.6 million before the coronavirus pandemic. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak pledged last year to reduce waiting times, making it one of the five core goals of his Conservative government. Instead, the list increased by 300,000 people.
Analysts estimate that previous strikes by senior and junior doctors added about 210,000 people to the waiting list due to missed appointments. They said the latest strike could push the number of canceled appointments and operations to more than a million. These range from elective knee replacements to urgent cancer surgery.
“We continue to see a huge cumulative impact on NHS services and our hard-working staff, maintaining safe services for patients while dealing with a record backlog,” Chris Strether, NHS London regional medical director, said in a statement. . “This time of year is always very busy for the NHS, and six days is the longest period that doctors have been on strike.”
Junior doctors make up almost half of doctors in the NHS, so when they leave, it spreads across the system, from emergency rooms to operating theatres. Doctors complain of long hours, constant stress, and wages that have failed to keep up with inflation that has exceeded 10%, although that has eased recently — issues that have plagued other health systems, including those in the United States.
For Mr Sunak, whose party trails Labor by double digits in opinion polls, the problems in the NHS pose an acute political risk. While the cost of living crisis has eased slightly, analysts say the perception that Britain's public services are broken could lead to failure in an election that Mr Sunak said would be held this year.
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