Socialist Worker

Jeremy Hunt can be beaten back by strikes

by Tomáš Tengely-Evans
Issue No. 2522

Junior doctors on strike at Leeds infirmary in February

Junior doctors on strike at Leeds infirmary in February (Pic: Neil Terry)

The battlelines in the fight to defend the NHS have been drawn as junior doctors plan three five-day walkouts in the run-up to Christmas.

They are fighting against Tory health secretary Jeremy Hunt’s imposition of a dangerous new contract.

The Tories and the right wing press are already pumping out propaganda about “greedy doctors” putting patients’ lives at risk.

It was this immense pressure that saw the British Medical Association (BMA) call off a strike planned for last week.

Many feared that the BMA’s Council would pull their planned walkouts in October, November and December.

But rank and file junior doctors put pressure on the BMA leadership to stand firm.

Now, as the BMA’s junior doctors committee meets this Saturday, it’s crucial that it focuses on building the action.


Chris James, a junior doctor in south London, told Socialist Worker, “The BMA had a wobble, but it came to the decision that we’ve got to stand firm. I think this decision will give junior doctors a new lease of resolve.”

In an online survey, set up by a rep at east London’s Homerton University Hospital, some 78 percent said they were against calling off the action.

Of the 840 junior doctors surveyed some 77 percent also said that calling strikes off would make them consider leaving the BMA or less likely to join it.

Chris added, “No one wanted to go on strike, but you reach a point where they’re just not listening and we have to take industrial action.”

Every trade unionist and campaigner now has to build solidarity—it is crucial to boosting junior doctors’ confidence.

A win for junior doctors could also deal a severe blow against austerity.

In south London junior doctors and their supporters planned a public meeting this week, with speakers from the NUT teachers’ and Aslef train drivers’ unions among others.

There are plans for demonstrations during the walkout in both south and east London.

At the Homerton, junior doctors and their supporters held an organising meeting last Thursday to discuss how to mobilise junior doctors and build solidarity.

Many junior doctors will have moved hospitals since the last strikes because they are on an annual rotation. A new layer of medical students, who weren’t part of the industrial action last year, have also come into the workforce.

Jackie Applebee, a GP and BMA member in east London, told Socialist Worker, “The junior doctors we were working with in the Royal London hospital have moved.

“It means we’ve got to make new contacts and build links inside the hospitals again.

“It can feel like starting from scratch, but we’ve all got to do it.”


She added, “Some junior doctors were feeling nervous about it so offering them practical support is really important.”

Delegates to the TUC conference last week unanimously passed an emergency motion supporting the junior doctors.

The TUC and union leaders must now build practical solidarity, not just rhetorical support like the majority showed last time.

Striking junior doctors at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Newcastle last February

Striking junior doctors at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Newcastle last February (Pic: Socialist Worker)

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka was right to call for a national day of action in support of the junior doctors during their walkout in April.

And CWU union leader Dave Ward called for a national demonstration. This is the least that should be done.

The new contract comes in on 1 October—but a serious fight can still beat Hunt’s attack.

A win for junior doctors could also deal a severe blow against austerity.

South London Junior Doctors Support Group public meeting, Thursday 22 September, 7pm,

We are 336, 336 Brixton Road, London, SW9 3AA.

Speakers include Chris James, junior doctor, Jess Edwards, NUT union national executive and Finn Brennan, Aslef union London organiser

Junior doctors plan a full withdrawal of labour between 8am and 5pm on 5, 6 and 7 October and then 10-11 October, 14-18 November, 5-9 December

Patients at risk from contract

Tory health secretary Jeremy Hunt claims the new contract is necessary to bring in “seven day working” in order to improve patient safety.

But the NHS already provides 24/7 emergency care and junior doctors work long hours, including nights and weekends.

Hunt’s proposals stretch inadequate resources for five days across seven.

Junior doctor Chris said, “We’re falling apart already and there is so much in this contract that’s dangerous for patient safety.”

He added, “We see the day to day effects of staff shortages, rota gaps, stress and the impact that has on patients. I spent six months on A&E and it was horrific, with six to seven-hour waits for patients.”

Hunt wants Saturday and Sunday to be ordinary working days and to cut extra night shift pay from 50 percent to 37 percent.

The contract also replaces financial penalties on hospital bosses who overwork junior doctors with a weaker “guardian role”.

Hunt’s real aim is to smash health workers’ pay and terms and conditions to soften the NHS up for more privatisation.

He also wants to ram through the horrific cuts signalled in the “sustainability and transformation plans”.

These could shut hospital departments across England.

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