Health Secretary Steve Barclay is considering calling in peace brokers to end the deadlock over the junior doctors strike.
But the intervention by a “third party” can only happen if the doctors call off their upcoming three-day strike next month, a source close to the minister said.
It comes as health experts told the Sunday Express that the Government must now bring in an independent arbitrator, warning ongoing strikes could permanently damage the NHS because of growing waiting lists caused by cancelled appointments.
More than half a million appointments and operations have been cancelled by the industrial action of junior doctors, nurses and paramedics since December. Junior doctors in England are to walk out for 72 hours from June 14.
Last week the British Medical Association upped its pay-rise demand from 35 percent to 49 percent, and said the Government’s offer of 5 percent – which was also rejected by nurses – was “not credible”.
The source close to Mr Barclay said: “He has sat round the table and talked to them until three weeks ago, but you can’t have talks while people are striking. It is totally unreasonable.”
“The way to resolve this is through talking. We are considering a third-party, it is an option but we can’t negotiate this or anything while strikes are ongoing.”
Latest figures showed 7.33 million people were waiting for treatment in March, up from 4.43 million at the start of the pandemic.
It comes as consultants in England are currently voting on whether to strike over pay and conditions, and nurses are also voting on whether to strike again.
The risk of junior doctors and consultants possibly coordinating strike days, combined with nurses walking out, has sparked alarm.
Professor Carl Heneghan, an urgent care GP and director of the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine at Oxford University, said: “This is unprecedented in the history of the NHS.
“The Government cannot bury its head in the sand and hope the problem will go away.”
A government spokesperson said the strikes “will be hugely disruptive for patients and put pressure on other NHS staff.”
“Unfortunately, it seems the BMA is unwilling to move meaningfully away from unaffordable headline demands on pay.”
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