Tory health secretary Jeremy Hunt was desperately trying to diffuse the junior doctors’ revolt as ballot papers went out last week.
The British Medical Association (BMA) began balloting for industrial action on Thursday of last week over Hunt’s plans to impose new contracts. They would rip apart terms and conditions and put patient safety at risk.
Rory Hicks from Manchester told Socialist Worker, “We’ve just got our ballot papers – and I expect it will be a Yes.
“The general mood from the public is that they understand what it’s about and they’re supporting us.”
The Tories know the dispute could spark resistance across the NHS. Hunt tried to buy doctors off with a supposed 11 percent pay offer, but the BMA’s junior doctors’ committee reject it.
“We would still be getting a pay cut,” Rory explained. “It would be an 11 percent rise to our basic salary, but the majority rely on unsocial hours payments for 50 percent of our actual salary. That would still mean an over 20 percent cut!”
The General Medical Council (GMC), an “independent regulator”, waded into the dispute last week. While admitting that “it’s not for us to advise doctors on how to vote”, it stressed doctors’ “responsibilities” to patients.
But the dispute is about patient safety. The new contracts would force doctors to work dangerous hours, force staff out and intensify the NHS crisis (see page 17).
St George’s NHS Trust boss Christopher Smallwood warned last week that the NHS faced “widespread financial collapse” next year without an annual £4 billion injection.
This is a fight for the NHS – and many health workers are supporting the junior doctors. Unite union rep and hospital worker Dave Carr told Socialist Worker, “We’ve had a meeting with the junior doctors. Leaflets are going out and a petition is going round the hospital”.
GPs in east London are also organising a support meeting for 24 November. GP Jackie Turner said, “It’s an opportunity to bring doctors, health workers and campaigners together after the ballot ends on 18 November.
“It can give them confidence to take industrial action – we want to see picket lines across the hospitals led by junior doctors.”
Now is the time for the other health unions to take action. Unison union leader Dave Prentis said that he would lead a fight against attacks unsocial hours, but has done nothing.
John Burgess, the left candidate for Unison general secretary, told Socialist Worker, “Unison should already have been out supporting junior doctors.
“The union leadership should have the ballots in place and be making clear arguments about how it is going to fight and mobilise members.”