Socialist Worker

Junior doctors are still up for a fight - but pause threatens momentum

Talks with health secretary Jeremy Hunt came as junior doctors met for their conference. The conference reflected a mood to fight—and possible dangers, reports Tomáš Tengely-Evans

Issue No. 2504

Junior doctors in London on strike last month

Junior doctors in London on strike last month (Pic: Guy Smallman)


The British Medical Association (BMA) was locked in talks with Tory health secretary Jeremy Hunt as Socialist Worker went to press.

The negotiations on the imposition of a dangerous new contract were set to end on Wednesday. They are a sign of mounting pressure on Hunt.

But his aim is still to break the dispute’s momentum, force the BMA into retreat and push ahead with privatisation. The outcome is critical to the future of the junior doctors’ fight—the BMA must stand firm.

Niki, a junior doctor in east London, told Socialist Worker, “It looks like we’ll be offered a new contract on Wednesday. We’ll have to be balloted on it—if there’s still shortcomings, we will have the option to reject it.”

Hunt agreed to “pause” the imposition of the contract for five days last Monday. But that was only if the BMA agreed to focus negotiations on Saturday pay and unsocial hours.

Former TUC general secretary Brendan Barber, who now heads the government’s Acas conciliation service, successfully pushed for them to be extended.

The dispute has become a focus for anger at the Tories’ attacks on the NHS and austerity and politicised many junior doctors.

Niki said, “A lot more junior doctors are now connected to others who are fighting for the NHS. We’re now organising a meeting with other health workers and campaigners to plan the next steps to stop privatisation.”

The mood was reflected at the BMA’s junior doctors’ conference—its biggest ever—in London last Saturday.

Junior doctor Megan told Socialist Worker, “Lots of junior doctors who’ve never been before were there.

Motions

“The fact that motions on working with other unions and supporting refugees passed shows how people are becoming political.”

But there was also a tension at the conference. The right resisted attempts to transform the BMA from a professional association into a trade union.

With the leadership’s support the conference agreed to “Working to foster and develop links with other unions”.

This was a shift from last year’s conference, which rejected a similar motion. But a call for the BMA to look into TUC affiliation fell. The right argued affiliation would stop the BMA being “apolitical”.

Yet the junior doctors’ dispute has shown how politics cannot be avoided in a battle for the NHS.

Junior doctors have shown they are determined to resist Hunt’s attack.

But there’s a danger that sections of the BMA leadership will back down without defeating the contract.

The BMA should escalate strikes after the talks—and all trade unionists should build solidarity for them.


Health secretary Jeremy Hunt lied about funding

Tory health secretary Jeremy Hunt has lied about NHS funding figures, health economists at the Kings Fund think tank have said.

Hunt denied the deepening crisis in the NHS was driven by austerity and claimed that the 1.6 percent funding increase is the sixth largest in the NHS’s history.

But the Kings Fund’s John Appleby and Adam Roberts showed it was only the 28th largest increase, which takes apart the Tories claims to be safeguarding the NHS.

They also attacked the Tories’ claim that they’re providing £3.8 billion in additional funding. NHS inflation is at 4 percent.

Even if the cash was “front loaded”—used at the start of the financial year—it amounts to only around 2.5 percent extra.

Appleby and Roberts argued that a better measure of total NHS spending is Department of Health’s budget, which is only increasing by £1.8 billion.

 


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