Junior doctors walked out across England today, Tuesday, against the imposition of a dangerous new contract.
Hundreds joined the biggest picket lines yet in an increasingly bitter battle against Tory health secretary Jeremy Hunt. Hunt set out to intimidate and smear the strikers. But his tactic spectacularly rebounded on him as the strike grew larger.
It was the British Medical Association’s (BMA) first ten-hour “full walkout”, with consultants instead of junior doctors providing emergency cover. The second is tomorrow.
The Tories’ claim that the BMA is trying to “topple” the government is a sign of the crisis facing them. They are deeply divided.
Sarah, a junior doctor in east London, said Hunt “should be under no illusions, we are as against his contracts today as we were when this began.” Dale, a junior doctor in Manchester, agreed, “We’re in good spirits—people are realising they have to stand up for the NHS.”
“We came out on strike because we had to, not because we wanted to,” Leeds junior doctor Michael said. “This is not about weekend pay.”
In Brighton strikers were boosted as around 700 Unison union health conference delegates and trade unionists joined a solidarity march to the picket line chanting “Jeremy Hunt has got to go”.
Brighton junior doctor Todd said, “This has brought junior doctors together. We will continue to oppose the imposition.”
Lynne, the North Derbyshire Unison health branch secretary, said, “If junior doctors don’t win, then they’ll come after everyone. If that happens, I think members would be willing to take action.”
Unison general secretary Dave Prentis told the Brighton picket line rally, “The message today is we’ve got to stop the privatisation of the NHS. We will take on this government, stand shoulder to shoulder with junior doctors in this fight and we will win.”
The Brighton march shows how the combination of an official call from the BMA and solidarity from outside can deliver a mass show of strength.
Sadly the TUC and most union leaders are only giving rhetorical support. John is a Unison member at Whittington Hospital in north London. He said, “Unison needs to show the sort of solidarity that can help the junior doctors win. I don’t think they’re doing enough.
“We tried to push the leadership to demand a guarantee from the government about our unsocial hours and fight if we didn’t get one. But that was blocked.”
Unison and the other health unions should ballot their members immediately and join the fight. Hunt has dug his heals in and admitted this could be his “last big job in politics”—it’s time for our side make that a reality.
Tory cuts put lives at risk, not striking doctors
The right wing press pumped out propaganda that the junior doctors’ strike put patients’ lives at risk but the reality is that Tory attacks on the NHS are doing that.
At Chorley Hospital in Lancashire the accident and emergency (A&E) department has been “temporarily” downgraded to an “urgent care service” that deals with minor injuries.
Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust took the decision due to an “unacceptable risk to patient safety” posed by the lack of junior doctors.
Pete Smith is a Unison union member and part of the Chorley Hospital Campaign. He told Socialist Worker, “It’s ten miles to Preston hospital where they’re sending patients and it is already under severe pressure. It’s 20 minutes on a good day without traffic—it could put people’s lives at risk.”
From 2013 and 2015 the number of unfilled junior doctor posts rose by around 60 percent from 2,907 to 4,669.
Richard, a junior doctor in south London, said, “We have a major trauma centre and it’s relentless—ambulances queue up outside. But it will be better staffed during the action than it has been in a long time.”
Hunt’s new contracts remove the financial penalties on NHS trusts for making doctors work a dangerous amount of hours. The Tories’ plans for “seven day working”, without more funding, would also stretch inadequate resources for five days across seven.
During the last walkouts some 40 percent of junior doctors have provided emergency care. Consultants will provide it this week.
The junior doctors’ fight is about patient safety.
Labour—get off the fence
Labour shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has called for the dangerous new contract to “be piloted in a number of trusts for its impact on patients”.
Megan, a junior doctor in Manchester, said, “The pilot would still be unfair to junior doctors and unsafe for patients.”
Labour’s proposal would help Hunt to push the contract into long grass and break momentum without a conclusive win for junior doctors. But the BMA leadership also backed the initiative.
The BMA is considering all options from accepting imposition and negotiating on Saturday working—capitulating to Hunt—to an indefinite strike in June. BMA rep Sophie said, “I don’t see any other option than an indefinite walkout, but we need to consider how we ensure patient safety.”
Only ramping up industrial action can force Hunt to back down.
Labour should come off the fence and fully back the strikes.
Megan said, “We’d hope we’d get more support from Labour—this is an attack on the NHS, the welfare state and public services.”