The Tories have agreed to “pause” the imposition of a dangerous new contract on junior doctors for five days, from Monday. But they will only do this is the British Medical Association (BMA) makes serious concessions.
Any move by the Tories a sign of the mounting pressure on the intransigent Tory health secretary Jeremy Hunt—but instead of pausing its shows the need to press home the advantage.
The Academy of Royal Medical Colleges published an open letter calling for a five day truce between Hunt and the BMA without any “ifs, buts or maybes”. In return for temporarily stopping the preparations for imposition, the BMA would postpone talk of more walkouts.
The BMA agreed to it this week, Hunt rejected it this morning—but has now agreed to it if the BMA “focus the discussion” on unsocial hours and Saturday pay.
This leaves Hunt setting the parameters for negotiations and ties the hands of the BMA’s junior doctors’ committee, which is set to meet on Saturday, on calling more action. Instead of intricate manoeuvres to destabilise action, more action is needed now.
There is clearly a section of the BMA’s senior leadership that is nervous about escalating industrial action, particularly to an indefinite strike. Mark Porter, the BMA council chair, warned junior doctors to “think carefully and “take soundings” before calling more action.
Hunt has been intransigent because he knows this is a critical moment. Either Hunt crushes the BMA, opening the door to further attacks on the NHS, or the junior doctors are victorious and probably topple Hunt.
Hunt’s attempts to smear junior doctors for putting patients’ lives at risk with their “full walkout” last month did not work. The junior doctors maintained public support and solidarity from other trade unionists poured onto the picket lines.
The Tories now face the possibility of a joint challenge from the junior doctors and the NUT teachers’ union that’s fighting their plans for forced academisation.
The junior doctors’ committee needs to build on the successful “full walkouts” last month, and call more hard-hitting strikes without large gaps between them.
Trade unionists should produce a higher level of solidarity for the junior doctors. The leaders of the PCS and FBU unions were right to call on the TUC to call a day of action. But there is little sign of movement.
An indefinite strike would cause a political crisis for the Tories that they could not face down. Hunt said he hoped this will be his last top job in politics—the junior doctors have the power to make sure it is.