Hospital consultants were tonight accused of giving patients ‘a kick in the teeth’ after it emerged they can do lucrative private work while on strike.
It means the senior doctors – on average NHS incomes of £128,000 – can profit from the misery caused by their two-day walkout next month.
The British Medical Association (BMA) today said its members would be free to earn extra money by carrying out private surgery and consultations during the strike. Patient groups described the BMA’s stance as ‘unconscionable’.
Health leaders have warned a ‘double whammy’ of industrial action by consultants and junior doctors will cause disruption to ‘many thousands’ of patients and is a ‘huge risk’ for the NHS to manage.
Junior doctors will strike for five days from July 13 to 18, in the longest walkout in the history of the NHS, before consultants walk out on July 20 and 21.
The British Medical Association has announced they will hold a five-day strike next month (Pictured: Medics demonstrating in London two weeks ago)
Health leaders have warned a ‘double whammy’ of industrial action by consultants and junior doctors will cause disruption to ‘many thousands’ of patients
Both groups are seeking an inflation-busting pay rise of 35 per cent. The combined action is likely to lead to the cancellation of more than 300,000 appointments, hampering efforts to clear record waiting lists of more than 7.4 million.
The BMA said consultants will be ‘perfectly able’ to do private practice if they are not contracted to do NHS work on strike days.
Those who are rostered to do routine NHS work, such as outpatient appointments and elective operations, can decide to ‘withdraw their labour’ and choose to provide private care instead.
However, those who are due to be ‘on call’ cannot do private work as they must remain available for emergencies, as part of the BMA’s agreement to provide a ‘Christmas Day’ service.
Tory MP Paul Bristow, who sits on the Commons health and social care committee, said: ‘How can it be right that in a middle of a strike, some consultants will be cashing in? This is a kick in the teeth for patients waiting for life-changing surgery.
‘The BMA need to get round the table and negotiate on behalf of their members.’
Fellow Conservative MP Ben Bradley added: ‘This is rank hypocrisy. It’s about time the BMA put patients first and called off the strikes.’
Consultants already do more than 800,000 private procedures each year, official figures show, with many cashing in on the rising demand for private healthcare fuelled by record NHS waiting lists.
They typically charge £2,500 for the likes of hip and knee replacements or cataract surgery, £250 for an initial consultation and £150 for follow-up checks, according to the Private Healthcare Information Network (PHIN). Some charge much more.
Patients have to pay the consultants’ fees plus extra charges to the hospitals where their procedures take place.
The statutory body, which collates data on private healthcare, said 12,200 consultants conducted private procedures last year. There were 820,000 private in-patient and day-case admissions in 2022, which is more than any year since it began collecting data.
Junior doctors will strike for five days from July 13 to 18, in the longest walkout in the history of the NHS, before consultants walk out on July 20 and 21
Consultants announced the strike on Tuesday after 86 per cent backed the move in a ballot, on a turnout of 71 per cent. They will provide only a bare-bones ‘Christmas Day’ service, meaning they will deliver emergency care but most routine treatment will be cancelled.
Dennis Reed, director of Silver Voices, which campaigns for the elderly, said: ‘For consultants to use a strike as an opportunity to increase private practice is unconscionable.
‘Consultants are not hard up and a lot of elderly people are on a pension that is a small fraction of these doctors’ income, so will be less supportive of them than they were of nurses.’
The BMA said: ‘If a consultant is not contracted to work for the NHS on strike days, then they can either support the strike – via picket lines or a locally organised rally – or if they are among the minority of consultants who have a private practice or a private patient list elsewhere on that day, they are able to go and do that work.
‘For consultants who are contracted to work for the NHS on strike days, only those who are on call will be expected to be available to provide the level of cover agreed – the ‘Christmas Day’ cover.
‘Consultants who are contracted to do NHS work, but not provide cover, have the ability to work in a private setting on strike days if they wish.
‘However, we’d recommend they support the industrial action and remain available to the NHS in case the strike is called off due to the Government returning with a credible offer.’