Socialist Worker

Junior doctors vote to take on the Tories in a fight for the NHS

by Tomáš Tengely-Evans
Issue No. 2480

Junior doctors protesting in Birmingham last weekend

Junior doctors protesting in Birmingham last weekend (Pic: Paul Stringer)

The fight for the NHS is on after junior doctors declared war on the Tories with an overwhelming vote for strikes this week.

The British Medical Association (BMA) members are fighting Tory health secretary Jeremy Hunt’s plans to impose new contracts.

They voted by 98 percent for strikes and 99 percent for action short of strikes, on a turnout of 76 percent.

They will now strike for 24 hours on 1 December, providing only “emergency care”, followed by “full withdrawals of labour” on 8 and 16 December.

The strength of the result shows the anger among junior doctors, as do the large protests they have held in London, Manchester, Nottingham, Newcastle, Leeds and Birmingham.

Junior doctors are fighting new contracts that would rip apart their terms and conditions. Some face a deep pay cuts—and they warn that the plans would put patient safety at risk.

Rory Hicks, a junior doctor from Manchester, told Socialist Worker, “The NHS is at such a point that the new contracts would break us.

“They would totally demoralise the workforce and push junior doctors out of the NHS and. A demoralised and short-staffed workforce isn’t one that provides safe healthcare for patients.”

The new contracts would remove the mandatory safeguards on hours worked, which were brought in the 1990s amid fears for patient safety.

Hunt claims his attacks to unsocial hours pay is part of bringing “seven day working” to the NHS, but health workers already work nights and weekends.

In reality, the Tories want to drive down pay and conditions to soften the NHS up for privatisation.

“Junior doctors are already working tremendously long hours,” Rory explained. “That includes a ridiculous amount of unpaid overtime, because we want to provide the best care for our patients.”

 He added, “We want to remain in the NHS, not be driven out”.

The Tories thought the junior doctors would be a soft target before they took on other health workers. Instead their resistance has caused a political crisis for Hunt.

A united fight could halt the Tories’ plans. The other unions in the NHS now need to come in behind this fight and ballot their members for action.

And every trade unionist and campaigner needs to get behind the junior doctors and organise solidarity for the strikes.

In Manchester, Rory said, “We’re hoping to get everyone there on the picket lines.”

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