Thousands of young doctors will begin voting on Monday over whether to strike over pay amid the recent outbreak of industrial unrest.
Around 45,000 members of the British Medical Association (BMA) in England are put to the poll and the results are decided at the end of February.
If they reach the 50% “yes” threshold, junior doctors – any doctor below consultant level – will go on a 72-hour “full strike” in March.
They will not provide emergency NHS care during the strike, and trusts will have to organize emergency security to ensure patient safety, the BMA said.
The union has urged the government to meet with doctors to negotiate a solution to avoid strikes – which would be the second time junior doctors have taken action since 2016, when Chancellor Jeremy Hunt was health secretary.
He said he was not invited to Monday’s meeting of health union leaders with the health secretary Steve Barclay.
Junior doctors are demanding better pay after being excluded from an NHS pay rise this year as their contract falls under a multi-year pay deal agreed in 2019.
The BMA said junior doctors in England had seen their pay cut in real terms over the last 15 years, a 26.1% drop in pay since 2008/9.
And the union says the risk to patients from low wages means there is no choice but to vote for junior doctors for strike action.
Read more: Who’s on strike and when this month?
The BMA urged Mr Barclay to sit down with doctors to negotiate in order to avoid industrial action.
Both Rishi Sunak and Mr Barclay said their doors were open for unions to talk to them.
But the BMA says Mr Barclay is “the first health secretary in over 50 years who continues to ignore all invitations” to meetings with doctors.
Read more: Rishi Sunak says public sector wage hikes will fuel inflation – economists say no
Dr. Vivek Trivedi and Dr. Robert Laurenson, co-chairs of the BMA’s Junior Physicians Committee, said: “When we are faced with such a resolute ongoing silence and there is no agreed agreement on the table, we have no choice but to act.
“Junior doctors are not worth a quarter less than they were 15 years ago, nor do they deserve to be valued so low by their own government.
“Wage erosion, exhaustion and despair are forcing younger doctors out of the NHS, pushing waiting lists even higher as patients suffer needlessly.
“The government’s refusal to address a 15-year wage erosion has given junior doctors no choice but to vote for industrial action.
“If the government won’t fight for our health service, we will.”
He plans to move patients stuck in the hospital to nursing homes
Sunak refuses to reveal whether he uses a private GP – as waiting times in the NHS are soaring
The vote will be open to new ambulance worker strikes this week and later in January, and next week’s nurses’ strikes.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “The Secretary for Health and Social Care has made it clear that supporting and retaining NHS staff is one of his key priorities, including our hard-working junior doctors.
“Our multi-year pay agreement with the British Medical Association increases junior doctors pay by a total of 8.2% until March 2023.
“We’ve also invested an extra £90m to give the most experienced junior doctors higher pay, increased allowances for those who work mostly on weekends and higher pay rates for night shifts.
“There are record numbers of staff working in the NHS and we are committed to publishing a comprehensive employment strategy next year.”