Wes Streeting says NHS is broken as he announces pay talks with junior doctors

The new health secretary, Wes Streeting, has declared the NHS is broken as he announced talks with junior doctors in England would restart next week.

The Ilford North MP said patients were not receiving the care they deserved and the performance of the NHS was “not good enough”.

But in his first speech in the job he stressed that the problems could not be fixed overnight after the health service had gone through “the biggest crisis in its history” after the pandemic.

Streeting said: “This government will be honest about the challenges facing our country, and serious about tackling them. From today, the policy of this department is that the NHS is broken.

“That is the experience of patients who are not receiving the care they deserve, and of the staff working in the NHS who can see that – despite giving their best – this is not good enough.”

The new health secretary delivered on his promise to call junior doctors in England on “day one” of a Labour government.

Health leaders have urged the government to resolve the long-running dispute with junior doctors as a “priority” after it emerged that tens of thousands of appointments were postponed as a result of the latest strike.

“I have just spoken over the phone with the BMA [British Medical Association] junior doctors committee, and I can announce that talks to end their industrial action will begin next week,” Streeting said in a statement.

“We promised during the campaign that we would begin negotiations as a matter of urgency, and that is what we are doing.”

Medics in training across the NHS went on strike for fivedays from 27 June in England.

NHS England said 61,989 appointments, procedures and operations had been postponed as a result of the latest action by junior doctors. The stoppage was the 11th strike by junior doctors in 20 months.

Junior doctors in England have said their pay has been cut by more than a quarter over the last 15 years and have called for a 35% increase.

Streeting has said previously he would not meet the 35%, adding that if he gave in to the demand then “any trade union worth their salt” would come back the following year with the same request.

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He has said there was “space for a discussion” on pay, as well as negotiations on how to improve working conditions for medics in training.

The wave of strikes, which has hit the NHS since December 2022 and has included stoppages by nurses, other doctor groups, physiotherapists and paramedics, among other staff, has led to nearly 1.5m appointments, procedures and operations being postponed, at an estimated cost to the NHS of more than £3bn.

The BMA junior doctors committee co-chairs, Dr Robert Laurenson and Dr Vivek Trivedi, said: “We were pleased to speak to the new health secretary, Wes Streeting, today, as he made good on his commitment made during the election campaign for JDC (the junior doctors’ committee) to be his first call and get the ball rolling on negotiating a solution to the junior doctors’ dispute. We expect talks to begin properly next week.

“As we have always been clear, only a credible offer, acceptable to our members, will end this dispute and we hope this will be made by the new government as soon as possible.”

Streeting’s comments came as the new prime minister, Keir Starmer, appointed his first cabinet, with Rachel Reeves confirmed as Britain’s first female chancellor and Angela Rayner as deputy prime minister.

The Guardian

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