The British Medical Association (BMA) suspended a planned five-day strike today, Monday.
Junior doctors in England had been set to walk out on 12 September against Tory health secretary Jeremy Hunt’s imposition of a dangerous new contract.
There is a still a mood to fight for the NHS—and further five-day strikes planned for October, November and December remain in place.
But there is no doubt that Hunt and prime minister Theresa May will be cheered by the BMA’s retreat.
The BMA said, “For the first time in this dispute NHS England have told us that a service under such pressure cannot cope with the notice period for industrial action given.
“We have to listen to our colleagues when they tell us that they need more time to keep patients safe.
“We have also listened to the concerns of working doctors, patient groups and the public.”
The BMA’s declared strike plans—a series of monthly five-day strikes—were a real escalation in the dispute. The response from the Tories and most of the media was brutal.
They pumped out propaganda about junior doctors putting patients’ lives at risk and witch-hunted their leaders.
The Academy of Royal Medical Colleges (ARMC) slammed the planned strike. The General Medical Council, an “independent regulator”, then waded into the dispute on Monday threatening that junior doctors could be struck off.
With their leaders wavering, and in the absence of any real solidarity plans from other unions or from the Trades Union Congress, the BMA buckled.
The arguments for action now need to be redoubled. It is the Tories’ assault on the NHS that is damaging and life-threatening.
The new contract will put patient safety at greater risk by overworking junior doctors.
It replaces financial penalties on hospital bosses who overwork junior doctors with a weaker “guardian role” as well as attacking pay.
Hunt claims the contract is necessary to bring in “seven day working” in the NHS.
But junior doctors point out that they already work seven days a week, including evenings and weekends.
The Tories’ real agenda is to attack workers’ pay and conditions to soften up the health service for privatisation.
But there is a mood to defend the NHS.
Protests took place in Huddersfield and Grantham against hospital cuts last weekend.
Junior doctors would gain support if they struck. They should organise to keep the pressure up on the BMA.
Every trade unionist should build solidarity for the planned strikes in the coming months.
Protesters say no to NHS cuts
Protests took place against hospital cuts in Grantham in Lincolnshire and Huddersfield in West Yorkshire last weekend.
Richard Buckwell was in Grantham on Saturday. “There were well over 1,000 people on the march,” he told Socialist Worker.
“The vast bulk of marchers ignored the official route agreed with the police.
“Instead they strode down the High Street in the opposite direction to traffic and spread right across the road.
“The march was to stop the local Grantham Hospital A&E closing in the evenings.
“We all know that this would be a prelude to further closures, and possibly the closure of the hospital altogether.”
Up to 400 people marched in Huddersfield on Sunday against the proposed closure of the local A&E department.
The demonstration was followed by speeches and a fun day, which organisers said 10,000 took part in.
NHS bosses want to “centralise” all acute care at Calderdale Royal Hospital in Halifax.
Anne Hall from Huddersfield told Socialist Worker, “The roads to Halifax are very bad, which will make it difficult for ambulances to transport patients.”
NHS bosses also want to slash the ambulance service in the area, which would put patients’ lives in even more danger.