A strike of unprecedented length within the British public health system. Junior doctors, doctors with a status close to that of interns in France, will stop working in England for six days, from Wednesday January 3, to demand raises.

After three days of strike before Christmas and numerous other walkouts in recent months, young doctors are stepping up their mobilization after the end-of-year holidays, due to a lack of agreement reached with the government in the face of the crisis caused by inflation. The movement of junior doctors, of whom there are nearly 70,000 in England, will begin at 7 a.m. local time (8 a.m. in Paris) on Wednesday morning and end on Tuesday January 9 at the same time.

This new six-day strike comes at a time when the British public health system, the NHS, is experiencing a hemorrhage of doctors and is struggling to reduce the gigantic waiting lists for patients. It has been marked in recent months by a series of historic strikes by various categories of its staff, including nurses, for the first time.

The NHS has expressed concern about the consequences of this movement in the middle of winter, explaining that “almost all routine care will be disrupted” with priority given to emergency care.

A drop in wages of almost a quarter since 2008

This January could be “one of the worst starts to a year that the NHS has seen”, warned Stephen Powis, medical director of NHS England, in a press release, who called on patients not to give up care altogether. . “This action will not only have a huge impact on planned care, but it comes on top of a range of seasonal pressures such as Covid-19, flu and staff absences due to illness, which are affecting how patients are being treated in hospitals,” he added.

A junior doctor earns around 32,000 pounds sterling (37,000 euros) in their first year of practice, notes the government. According to the British Medical Association (BMA), which counts 46,000 young doctors in its ranks, their salaries have fallen by almost a quarter since 2008 when inflation is taken into account.

The government negotiated for five weeks in the fall to try to resolve the situation before the tense winter period. He offered them a 3% salary increase at the beginning of December, on top of the 8.8% average salary increase already granted this summer.

Thousands of canceled appointments

However, for the BMA union, “the government has not shown itself capable of presenting a credible offer on wages”: its proposal would not, according to it, stop the decline in purchasing power. Representatives of the union’s young doctors’ committee, Robert Laurenson and Vivek Trivedi, regretted on Wednesday having waited throughout the holiday period for “the final offer” promised by the Minister of Health, without receiving anything.

“We are prepared to have further discussions, but the first thing is to end this strike,” a Downing Street spokesperson responded on Tuesday, noting that 88,000 medical appointments were canceled during the three days of strike in December. At that time, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak described the continuation of the movement as “very disappointing”, accusing these doctors of further lengthening waiting lists for patients.

A category of experienced doctors, consultants, recently obtained an increase ranging from 6% to 19.6%, on which members of the BMA union have yet to vote.