Newspapers and health minister understate junior doctors’ pay demand

24 February 2023
What was claimed

The British Medical Association is asking for a 26% pay rise for junior doctors.

Our verdict

This is not correct. The BMA claims that junior doctors’ pay has fallen 26% since 2008/9, and asked the government to restore it to this level. This would amount to a rise of about 35%.

My understanding from the BMA is that their current demands, in terms of why they’re striking, is a demand of 26% pay increase.

[Junior doctors] now plan a 72-hour walkout next month in their fight for a 26% pay rise.

These doctors are hoping for a 26 per cent pay rise.

The health minister Maria Caulfield, speaking on BBC Breakfast, has incorrectly said that the British Medical Association (BMA) is demanding a 26% pay rise as part of the forthcoming junior doctors’ strike.

This error has also been made by several media outlets, including the Metro, the i, the Daily Mail, the Telegraph, the Spectator and the Manchester Evening News. The radio presenter Nick Ferrari included the figure in a tweet promoting his LBC show, as did BBC News in an article that has since been at least partially corrected and a Facebook post which has not.

We’ve also seen this claim being shared by several Facebook users.

It is true that the BMA claims that junior doctors’ pay has fallen by about 26% in real terms since 2008-9 (accounting for rising prices), and that it wants the government to restore their pay to this level.

If this happened, however, it would not amount to a 26% rise from today’s pay level, as many claimed. As the BMA has also noted, it would be more like 35%.

The BMA made its estimates using the RPI measure of inflation. This measure has been criticised by some economic experts, who suggest it may not lead to accurate figures, although it is supported by many unions, and some other experts have said that alternative measures have weaknesses when it comes to measuring consumer price inflation.

The Nuffield Trust, a health think tank, used the different CPI measure of inflation to calculate that junior doctors have experienced a roughly 14% fall in their pay since 2010.

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Percentage rises and falls

We’re not sure where the claim that junior doctors are asking for a 26% pay rise came from originally, but it may reflect a common confusion around percentages.

Put simply, subtracting one number from another represents a smaller percentage fall than the rise would be if you added it back again. So taking 50 away from 100 amounts to halving it (a 50% fall), but adding 50 back to 50 means doubling (a 100% rise).

This is quite a common mistake, but we’ve written before about how percentages can often be confusing and why it’s important to use them correctly. We’ve also seen how some simple mistakes, for instance about the cap on household energy prices, can become very widespread in the media.

Full Fact approached Ms Caulfield and all the media outlets for comment. At the time of publication, Metro agreed its use of the figure was a mistake and said it planned to publish a clarification.

Image courtesy of Usman Yousaf

Correction 26 July 2023

This article has been corrected to show that the Nuffield Trust calculations used CPI, not CPIH.

We took a stand for good information.

After we published this fact check, we contacted MailOnline, the Daily Mail, Metro, the Spectator, the BBC, the Telegraph, and Manchester Evening News to request a corrections regarding this claim.

The Daily Mail,  Mail Onlinethe Metro, the i and the BBC amended their articles, and the Metro also printed a clarification in the paper. 

The other media outlets did not respond to our request. 

We also made Maria Caulfield's office aware of our fact check and asked that ministers in the department are appropriately briefed on these figures ahead of any future interviews on this subject.

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