CLAIM: English junior doctors ‘politicising their pay because they don’t like the Conservatives’ – Douglas Ross, Scottish Conservative leader, 17 August


Junior doctors in Scotland have accepted a deal from the SNP government which is worth roughly twice the miserly pay increase imposed by the Tories in England. Result: no strikes in Scotland and a chance to end reduce waiting times north of the border.  


Speaking on a media visit to Ayrshire on Thursday 17 August, Tory Scottish leader Douglas Ross made headlines when he claimed junior doctors in England were striking for political reasons, because they opposed the Tory government:

“We’ve actually seen when the junior doctor representatives in England were asked would they accept the very same deal that’s now been accepted [in Scotland], they said no.  Because they want to make this a political issue against a Conservative government at a UK level rather than getting a deal that works for junior doctors..."

READ MORE: FACT CHECK: Claim strike legislation brings UK into line with Europe

Ross’ provocative comments received widespread media attention on both sides of the border. His accusation was immediately rejected by the junior doctors’ union, the BMA, which responded that “at no stage” had the Government actually offered junior doctors in England the deal accepted by members in Scotland. 

In fact, the English health secretary Steve Barclay has actually broken off negotiations with the junior doctors’ representatives.


Junior doctors and dentists in Scotland represented by the BMA accepted a 12.4% pay increase on Wednesday 16 August, covering 2023-24. Alongside a previous pay rise of 4.5% for 2022-23, this will give a total pay increase of 17.5% over two years. 

This is less than the original 35% claim, but the Scottish government sweetened the deal by agreeing further talks to "make credible progress" towards restoring real pay to 2008 levels. 

In addition, it was agreed to raise pay by inflation in coming years, to protect the real value of the settlement. 

The deal will cost the Scottish government £61.3m and will be met from existing budgets. 

In England, by contrary, junior doctors have been offered a 6% rise with an additional, one-off £1250. 

The National:

This is in line with the pay review body recommendations. Unlike in Scotland, where the SNP went out of its way to continue negotiations, the Tory government has simply imposed this “settlement” provoking a wave of strikes that have – so far – cost around 600,000 lost appointments.  

Junior doctors make up half of all hospital doctors in England and a quarter working in GP surgeries. 

The UK Government describes this imposed settlement as an “average increase of around 8.8%” when consolidated. 

Obviously, the consolidation only lasts one year, so the long-term value of the offer is 6%. This is around half the 2023-24 figure of 12.4% agreed in Scotland. 

Plus the Westminster government has refused further negotiations.


Do junior doctors deserve a pay increase? First-year junior doctors in England working a 40-hour week earn a basic £29,384, according to the BMA.

 Doctors in their second year earn £34,012.  This is hardly excessive given the years of undergraduate training. 

However, this is a basic rate and does not include allowances for duties such as working on weekends or being on-call. The minimum basic annual salary for junior doctors can reach £58,398, but not until they undertake six to eight of demanding, specialty training - which starts after the two foundation years. 

However, modern junior doctors start their careers with around £100,000 of student debt.

The reality is that the combination of lengthy training, heavy hours, student debt and relatively moderate pay for the first decade at least of employment is hurting recruitment. 

READ MORE: Minimum alcohol pricing: Sandesh Gulhane wrong say medical experts

According to the BMA, the NHS in England was short of around 50,000 doctors after the pandemic. 

BMA figures suggest the number of doctors in England is circa 2.8 per 1,000 people - lower than the EU average of 3.7. This shortage underpins the junior doctors’ claim for a boost in pay.


The decision of Scottish junior doctors to agree a settlement below their original 35 per cent benchmark shows a willingness to compromise.

And the SNP government’s willingness to offer twice the amount offered by Steve Barclay – and to continue discussions on how to fill the remaining gap over time – shows how responsible politician behave.

If anything, it is the Tory governments deliberate unwillingness to negotiate with the junior doctors south of the border which is politicising the dispute.

So why did Ross make such an unwarranted claim? We might note that he grabbed the headlines in this matter after finding himself under public criticism for avoiding visiting the Rutherglen and Hamilton West by-election, caused by the removal of former SNP MP Margaret Ferrier, who was convicted of breaching Covid lockdown rules.

The National:

The Tories have no hope of coming anywhere close in this by-election and are keeping their heads well down, perhaps to maximise the chances of Labour taking the seat. 

At the same time, garnering some union-bashing headlines changes the narrative for Ross and buys him kudos with the English Tories.

There’s also the embarrassing behaviour of the Scottish shadow health spokesperson, Sandesh Gulhane, a medical doctor who has been accused of spending more of his time looking for a Westminster seat than doing his scrutiny job at Holyrood

Perhaps Douglas Ross was seeking to cover for Dr Gulhane’s political absence?

FACT CHECK RATING: Another own goal for Douglas.

The National:

In the words of the BMA: “If Douglas Ross wants to involve himself in the pay for English doctors, we would urge him to convince his party leader to sit down with the BMA and negotiate rather than continue to refuse to talk.”