Tory health secretary Jeremy Hunt gloated in the House of Commons today, Thursday, that the junior doctors’ dispute “was resolved with a historic agreement.” But many junior doctors are frustrated that the British Medical Association (BMA) and Hunt cobbled together a rotten new deal.
The full terms and conditions will be published on 31 May, but the preliminary summary falls far short of what junior doctors are fighting for.
The deal can be beaten—if junior doctors organise against it and put forward an escalating plan of action.
Junior doctor Jamie said, “I wasn't hoping for a lot, but superficially this appears to be worse than I feared we'd get.”
Hunt claims the new contract is necessary to bring in “seven day working” in the NHS in order to improve patient care. In reality the NHS already runs emergency services 24/7 and junior doctors work long hours, including nights and weekends.
Hunt's aim is to smash health workers' unsocial hours pay and terms and conditions to soften the NHS up for privatisation. The Tories have said that it will reduce the cost of weekend work by one third.
The deal will stretch resources already inadequate for five days across seven and establish a bridgehead for future attacks.
In particular Hunt wanted make Saturday a regular working day, slash unsocial hours pay and scrap financial penalties on hospital bosses who overwork junior doctors. This deal abolishes the weekend, reduces night shift pay from 50 percent to 37 percent and has less robust safeguards.
The deal would mean any junior doctor working less than one weekend in eight would only be paid normal pay rates. Those working regular weekends—from more than one in seven weekends to one in two weekends— will receive between 3 and 10 percent.
Junior doctor Tom said, “10 percent uplift for working one weekend in two is frankly insulting. No deal.”
The new deal comes after Hunt "paused" the imposition of a dangerous new contract for eight days.
The fact that Hunt agreed to fresh negotiations having imposed the contract shows the pressure he was under. But that pressure was due to eight solid walkouts by junior doctors, who have shown their determination to fight for the NHS.
Nigel, a junior doctor, said, “I would have loved to see the BMA stand firm and say no. For years doctors have accepted new deals that always reduce their terms and conditions.
“Enough is enough.”
Poonan, another junior doctor, said, “We seem to have gone into talks—and come out with an even worse deal. We didn't need to strike to achieve that.”
The lack of real solidarity from most trade union leaders—and the TUC in particular—has increased the pressure on the BMA.
The BMA will now ballot junior doctors from 17 June until 1 July and is likely to recommend accepting the deal.This worryingly long gap can help Hunt break momentum, but rank and file junior doctors can organise a campaign of rejection.
Junior doctors and student nurses in London had organised a meeting on fighting for the NHS for this Sunday. Those wanting to build for rejection and fight for the NHS should go to this meeting.
Now is the time to keep fighting, not bring the dispute to an end on the Tories' terms. This means organising to get the deal rejected. It is not too late to beat the contract. Escalating strikes would build more pressure and force Hunt to dump the whole toxic contract.