Junior doctors could continue to strike for years, one of the militant union bosses behind the devastating mass walkouts has warned.

Dr Emma Runswick, deputy chair of the British Medical Association Council, said the dispute between medics and officials could run beyond the general election.

The 28-year-old, from the Wirral, Merseyside, admitted that this could see industrial action ‘possibly’ last for years.

Doctors in training will take to picket lines from Saturday in their latest five-day strike, coordinated by the BMA, in a bid for a 35 per cent pay rise.

Dr Emma Runswick, deputy chair of the British Medical Association Council, said the dispute between medics and officials could run beyond the general election

Dr Emma Runswick, deputy chair of the British Medical Association Council, said the dispute between medics and officials could run beyond the general election 

Junior doctors in their first year now have a basic pay of £32,300, while those with three years' experience make £43,900. The most senior earn £63,100

Junior doctors in their first year now have a basic pay of £32,300, while those with three years’ experience make £43,900. The most senior earn £63,100

Dr Runswick, voted into her role in July 2022, told the BBC’s Political Thinking with Nick Robinson podcast that walkouts could continue after the next election, which will take place by January 2025, even if Labour win.

She said: ‘The dispute we have now is not going to end with a change of Government. It’s going to end with progress on pay for doctors.’

Asked if this meant the strikes could continue for months or even years, she replied: ‘Possibly. I would hope that it doesn’t. But I hoped that back in October 2022.’

Dr Runswick called for ‘pay restoration’ for junior doctors, which the union has put a 35 per cent pay rise. 

She said this will reverse a 26 per cent ‘pay cut’ over 16 years, based on the idea that salary rises haven’t kept pace with inflation since 2008.

The union estimates it would cost £1.1billion to implement, while officials put the figure at more than £2billion. Dr Runswick says the sum is ‘worth it’ and not ‘unreasonable’.

What do the latest NHS figures show? 

The overall waiting list shrunk by 6,266 to 7.6million in December. 

There were 282 people waiting more than two years to start, up from 227 in November. 

The number of people waiting more than a year to start hospital treatment was 337,450, down slightly on the 355,412 in the previous month.

Some 54,308 people had to wait more than 12 hours in A&E departments in England in January. The figure is up from 44,045 in December.

A total of 158,721 people waited at least four hours from the decision to admit to admission in January, up from 148,282 in December.

Just 70.3 per cent of patients were seen within four hours at A&Es last month. NHS standards set out that 95 per cent should be admitted, transferred or discharged within the four-hour window.

‘Why is it in society that we have decided it’s acceptable to make people who are running one of the most essential services in the country poorer?’ she said.

The medic said she’d ‘like to see’ the pay rise funded by higher taxes for the rich.

She added: ‘We’re experiencing a health system where we cannot give the care that patients deserve. 

‘We either continue to let that happen around us, and we make the individual decisions to leave medicine or the country as thousands of us are doing, or we make the decision to fight back.

‘During strike action we ensure the safety of patients who need urgent emergency and critical care. 

‘If we don’t do something, neither they nor the thousands who need treatment in the future will have access to it.’

The latest round of strikes will run from 7am on February 24 until just before midnight on February 28.

In a joint statement announcing the action earlier this month, the BMA junior doctors committee co-chairs Dr Robert Laurenson and Dr Vivek Trivedi said the action could have been averted had the Government agreed to come to the negotiating table. 

Around 1.4million appointments and operations have been cancelled because of the never-ending wave of NHS walkouts that kicked off in 2022. 

There has been 70 strike days in period, costing the NHS £3billion and forcing patients to wait even longer for care at a time when waiting lists are at 7.62million, with hundreds of thousands forced to wait more than a year for care.

Junior doctors’ previous strike action in January saw them take to picket lines for a record six days, leading to 113,779 appointment cancellations.

Emergency services remain open on strike days and officials have told Brits needing urgent medical care to still seek help as normal.

Ministers have given junior doctors an 8.8 per cent pay rise, on average, for the 2023/24 financial year. 

However, the uplift was higher for first year medics, who were given a 10.3 per cent boost. 

In December, Health Secretary Victoria Atkins offered them an additional 3 per cent rise in a bid to avert further strike action.

But the union said the improved sum was still ‘completely insufficient’. 

Junior doctors in their first year now have a basic pay of £32,300, while those with three years’ experience make £43,900. The most senior earn £63,100.

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