Thousands of junior doctors and supporters were set to march through central London on Saturday and Bristol on Sunday.
This comes ahead of a planned walkout by junior doctors in the British Medical Association (BMA) on Wednesday of next week from 8am.
The BMA confirmed this week that talks had failed and that a strike would go ahead across England.
Contrary to previous plans, it will be for 24 hours, up from nine hours. But it will include emergency cover, contrary to plans for an escalation.
Yannis Gourtsoyannis, who sits on the BMA’s junior doctors’ committee, told Socialist Worker that the walkout will happen without “significant moves from the government.”
Sarah Hallett, a junior doctor in London, plans to march on Saturday.
“You won’t find a junior doctor that supports Tory health secretary Jeremy Hunt,” she said. “Junior doctors are normally quite passive and many are small ‘c’ conservatives—but everyone’s really angry.”
They are fighting Tory plans to impose new contracts that would rip apart terms and conditions, and put patient safety at risk.
Sarah explained, “The main issue for us is patient safety—we’re already at breaking point and the contracts would make it worse.”
Hunt claims the new contracts are necessary to bring in “seven day working” in the NHS to improve patient care. But health workers already work seven days a week.
Sarah said, “Hunt isn’t willing to increase the number of doctors. There’s already a big problem with recruitment and retention, especially in accident and emergency (A&E).
“His plans would stretch the NHS and make the service on weekdays suffer.”
Hunt wants to smash workers’ pay, terms and conditions to soften the NHS up for privatisation. Sarah added, “Many junior doctors are looking at how this is linked to the NHS crisis and privatisation.”
The Tories have intensified their assault on the NHS. The Monitor watchdog and the NHS Trust Development Authority have instructed hospital bosses to deal with their acute cash crisis through “headcount reduction”—sacking staff.
The watchdogs told trusts to reduce their “financial distress” if they want access to a £1.8 billion bailout.
Three years ago hospitals were told to do the opposite after the Mid Staffordshire Hospital scandal.
A wider revolt is growing in the NHS. NHS students are set to begin a week of action to save bursaries on Monday.
Jenny Leow, a student occupational therapist said, “We’re going to support junior doctors with a powerful weapon—solidarity. NHS students are going to walk out from our placements for an hour next Wednesday.”
Yannis added, “This won’t be won on newspaper front pages. We will win by taking the arguments to the public, working together and not being afraid to speak about issues in political terms.”
Bristol March - Sunday 7 February, assemble 11.30am Brandon Hill, march to College Green
A helpline service that doesn't help
The NHS 111 helpline is under increasing pressure with calls rising by up to 30 percent in a year.
An NHS England report last week criticised the service after baby William Mead died. A GP and 111 adviser failed to spot he had sepsis.
The Tories replaced the NHS Direct helpline with 111 to cut costs in 2012.
David Wrigley, a GP in Lancashire, told Socialist Worker, “The general feeling is that it’s ill-conceived and inappropriate. NHS Direct was staffed by doctors and nurses, but 111 is based on staff without medical training using computer algorithms”.
David added, “It’s like a pack of cards—general practice is on its knees and A&E is struggling.”
At an emergency conference of local committees, GPs voted unanimously for the British Medical Association to “canvass GPs on their willingness to submit undated resignations”.
Their employment status means they cannot officially take industrial action.