The fight to save the health service is at a crucial stage with hospital consultants ready to return to picket lines across England this week. The Tories and their media friends will tell us that the doctors are callous and that strikes on Thursday and Friday put people’s lives at risk.
But even on non-strike days, every part of the NHS is in mortal danger, with staff shortages, millions of people on waiting lists, and whole buildings on the brink of collapse.
That’s the terrible price we are all paying for more than a decade of under-investment in healthcare. The Tories’ plan is to run down the service, break off chunks for the private sector and eventually declare the NHS as too sick to save.
Part of that plan involves underpaying health workers and creating shortages of expertise. That’s why health secretary Steve Barclay refuses to discuss doctors’ pay.
Vishal Sharma, the chair of the BMA union’s consultants committee, said, “It is now 133 days since the secretary of state last met with us, demonstrating the government’s complete disregard for the expertise and value of consultants, and the very future of the health service and its patients.”
But the Tories have instead given health bosses instructions to inflame disputes with both consultants and junior doctors. Hospital chiefs in the south of England are offering four times their salary to break the strikes.
The pay rates being offered at University Hospitals Sussex, for example, would mean a first year “F1” doctor on an hourly rate of just £15.53, could grab between £62 and £82 an hour for shifts during the Strikes.
On other days an F1 who takes a “normal” locum shift gets just £25 an hour.
Meanwhile, those standing up for the NHS by taking to picket lines have their pay docked for striking. The scabbing move shows the Tories have unlimited cash when it comes to breaking a dispute but no money when it comes to paying properly.
That conclusion was further underlined this week when junior doctors agreed to a pay settlement with the Scottish government.
That deal is worth far less than the 35 percent full pay restoration the BMA rightly set out to win.
But with a headline pay rise for this year of 12.4 percent for those in training, and other add-ons, it’s far more than the 6 percent plus £1,250 that the Tories offer junior doctors in England. And the 6 percent rise they are offering consultants.
The BMA is right to stick with strikes, and other groups, such as radiographers, should use their live ballots to join in with them.
The strikes are helping wreck the Tories’ election promises and keeping the health service run down near the top of the list of issues people are angry about.
But everyone who works for and relies on the NHS would have benefited if all health unions—including the nurses and ambulance workers that struck earlier this year—had stood together for a better deal.
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