Socialist Worker

Decision to call off junior doctors' strikes is a missed chance to defend the NHS

by Tomáš Tengely-Evans
Issue No. 2523

Brighton solidarity march with the junior doctors during an earlier strike

Brighton solidarity march with the junior doctors during an earlier strike (Pic: Steve Guy)


Many junior doctors are angry and frustrated that the British Medical Association (BMA) suspended planned walkouts against Tory health secretary Jeremy Hunt’s imposition of a dangerous new contract. 

They planned five-day walkouts in October, November and December. 

Rory, a junior doctor in Manchester, told Socialist Worker, “It’s disappointing to see the BMA go back first given the state of the NHS.” 

Another junior doctor in London told Socialist Worker, “Lots of us feel disappointed and angry at the BMA that the strikes are suspended. They had a mandate, but there was so much umming and ahhing.”

It will be a disaster for the NHS, health workers and patients if Hunt gets his way. He will use it to ramp up the assault on the NHS. 

Junior doctors' leaders had fought off attempts by the BMA Council to suspend their industrial action only last week. But the junior doctors' committee buckled in the face of right wing pressure on Saturday. 

Ellen McCourt, junior doctors' committee chair, said industrial action had been suspended because of the “overriding concern about patient safety”. 

Rory said, “No one wants to put patients at risk, but the new contract will mean junior doctors working longer hours, it will mean more tired doctors and that means more mistakes can be made. 

“That’s what will put patients at risk”. 

Solidarity

A particularly important factor was the lack of solidarity from other unions and the TUC. The doctors needed to create a political crisis for the government.

That could be achieved only if strikes were backed up by a wave of solidarity, mass demonstrations, and other workers and health campaigners taking to the streets.

This did take place on a modest scale at local level where activists organised it.

But the TUC did not call a national demonstration for the doctors and in defence of the NHS. Neither did the Labour Party.

Other NHS unions have not called for protests and solidarity with the junior doctors. This made the BMA feel more isolated and mounted pressure on its leadership to back down..

In fact they have massive support, but it has never been properly mobilised.

The Tories and right wing press pumped out propaganda about “greedy doctors” putting patients’ lives at risk. The senior BMA leadership and right within the union pushed this argument and said that there wasn’t an appetite for action. 

Hunt will use a successful imposition to attack other health workers’ pay and conditions to soften the NHS up for privatisation. Only serious resistance will stop him.


If you enjoy Socialist Worker, please consider giving to our annual appeal to make sure we can maintain and develop our online and print versions of Socialist Worker. Go here for details and to donate.

Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.