Socialist Worker

Junior doctors prescribe a strike for the NHS

by Tomáš Tengely-Evans
Issue No. 2477

Junior doctors and supporters protesting in London earlier this month

Junior doctors and supporters protesting in London earlier this month (Pic: Julie Sherry)


The junior doctors’ revolt is growing. The British Medical Association (BMA) announced last week that it would ballot its 56,000 members for industrial action. 

The ballot starts on Thursday of next week and ends on 18 November.

Up to 5,000 junior doctors and their supporters marched through Newcastle last Saturday. Another demonstration was planned in Leeds on Wednesday of this week. 

These are the latest of the doctors’ mass demonstrations to rock the Tories.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt tried to stop the BMA taking industrial action. But junior doctors want to fight the Tories’ attacks on their contracts and the service.

Niki, a junior doctor in east London, said, “The feeling among most people is that we need to strike—not just have action short of strike. They’ve sent out a strong message—we have to send a strong response.” 

The Department of Health went into battle mode when the BMA announced the dates of the ballot.

Health minister Ben Gummer even said, “The BMA has decided to put patients at risk.”

But it’s Hunt who’s putting patients at risk, by imposing new contracts that would rip up terms and conditions and make doctors’ shifts even longer.

Niki said, “There are huge concerns about patient safety. We have to make sure the new contracts don’t go ahead or patient safety will be put at risk in the long term.” 

Yannis Gourtsoyannis sits on the BMA junior doctors’ committee. He explained, “The new contracts would render the NHS unsafe.

“They would expand our standard hours—and remove the safeguards on how many hours doctors can work.

“Tired doctors working longer hours are not good for patient safety.”

Junior doctors are also furious at the pay cut of up to 40 percent that is in the new contracts. But this isn’t just about money. The contracts are part of an attack on the whole NHS.

Attacking

Under the guise of bringing “seven day working” into the NHS, Hunt is attacking unsocial hours pay.

In reality most NHS services already run 24/7. The Tories want to rob workers’ wages and soften the NHS up for privatisation.

Yannis said, “This is partly about pay and we make no apologies about that. If we fail, then it will be nurses and other health workers next.” 

Joe, a medical student in south London, said, “No one goes into the NHS to earn lots of money—and you don’t.

“Many doctors could earn more money privately. But we don’t want to work in a privatised health service that isn’t about putting patient care first.”

The new contracts would intensify the NHS staffing crisis.

Joe explained, “In many speciality areas, such as accident and emergency (A&E), staffing levels are already dangerously low. 

“You already have around 60,000 leaving the NHS annually and the new contracts would push more people out. That’s why the attack on pay is an attack on the NHS.”

The Tories thought junior doctors would be a soft target they could deal with quietly, before taking on other health workers and their unions with the Trade Union Bill.

But they have widespread support among health workers—and the attack is driving rank and file activity.

Rank and file junior doctors and medical students have initiated the demonstrations.

Joe, Niki and Yannis all agreed that doctors are likely to overwhelmingly support industrial action. 

The other unions need to join the fight and ballot their members.

Some 15 unions representing 1.3 million NHS workers have slammed the Tories’ attack on unsocial hours pay.

Some of the largest, including Unison, have said they could strike.

A united walkout could stop the Tories in their tracks. 

“We’ve had meetings with the different union reps in the hospital, because the unions should be working together,” said Nicki.  

This is a fight to defend the NHS. We all need to get behind it.


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