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The UK has been in the grip of high inflation for over a year. Its consumer price index rose by 7.9 percent in the 12 months to June.
On Friday, junior doctors across England started a four-day walkout, their fifth round of industrial action in the ongoing dispute between the British Medical Association (BMA) and the government over pay amid high inflation. It could deal further a blow to the country's already strained healthcare system.
The strikes aim to "achieve full pay restoration to reverse the steep decline in pay faced by junior doctors since 2008/9" and "agree on a mechanism with the government to prevent any future declines against the cost of living and inflation," the BMA said in a press release.
"As a medical student I have now gone through a pandemic, a cost-of-living crisis, and now I have student debts of almost 100,000 British pounds. Even with the 10 percent pay uplift, I'm still starting in a job where real terms pay has eroded by more than a quarter. We need to feel valued, and pay is an integral part of that," said Raymond Effah, a striking first-year doctor.
On Monday, consultants in England also announced new September strike dates, on top of the July and August ones, to urge the government to agree to pay talks and present the profession with a credible offer.
Health Secretary Steve Barclay said on Friday that patients are bearing the brunt of the impact of continuous strikes across the National Health Service (NHS), and further action by the BMA will cause more appointments and procedures to be postponed.
"My door is always open to discuss how to improve doctors' working lives, but this pay award is final," Barclay said, noting that as recommended by the independent pay review body, the government is giving first-year doctors in training an average annual pay rise of 8.8 percent.
The United Kingdom has been in the grip of high inflation for over a year. Its Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose by 7.9 percent in the 12 months to June. Households have felt the squeeze amid a worsening cost-of-living crisis. Widespread strikes broke out during the summer of 2022 due to pay disputes.
In July, the UK government announced pay rises of at least 6 percent for millions of public sector workers. The offer was "final" and there was no room for any further negotiation on public sector wages, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said then.
Concerns over the strike-hit NHS have mounted amid long-time strikes in the wake of the COVID-19 that has caused massive waiting list backlogs.
The NHS waiting list has hit a record 7.57 million, "the pressure on urgent and emergency care services is relentless and an already stretched NHS is gearing up for another high-demand winter as pressure on tight budgets mounts," said Julian Hartley, chief executive of NHS Providers, the membership organization for NHS trusts in England.
A string of strikes, which have led to over 835,000 routine treatments and appointments being put back since December, is estimated to have cost the NHS around 1 billion pounds (US$1.27 billion) already including lost income and hiring expensive staff cover, Hartley added.