The NHS is set to be hit by the biggest action yet in the battle for pay and to defend the health service. Some 60,000 junior doctors in England plan to strike for four days from 7am next Tuesday until 7am on Saturday 15 April.
They are demanding the government restores their pay to 2008 levels, which would mean a 35 percent rise. The effect of the action will be massive because junior doctors form the bulk of the health service’s medical workforce. Outpatient and inpatient services will likely be affected.
Already NHS trusts are trying to reschedule more than 250,000 appointments. The doctors’ BMA union says no hospital departments are exempted from the strike, so A&E and intensive care services will also be hit.
This has brought on a hail of attacks from the Tories and their friends in the right wing media. The Times newspaper is spearheading the assault. Last week, it tore into the BMA junior doctors’ wing as “militant” and having been taken over by left wing factions.
The union’s demand for pay restoration was “unreasonable”, it thundered. But the junior doctors are right to take such decisive action because decent pay is the only way to solve the staffing crisis gripping the NHS.
A leak of the health bosses’ workforce plan last week showed that if nothing is done, the service will be short of 571,000 staff by 2036. It said there would be 28,000 fewer GP doctors within 15 years.
No wonder then that junior doctors in Scotland last week began a strike ballot so they too can join the fight for pay restoration. Dr Hugh Pearson works a 60-hour week at the Western General Hospital in Edinburgh.
He told the Daily Record newspaper that he regularly works extra locum shifts in order to pay for expensive, compulsory exams to progress his career. The courses cost around £600, and exams can cost up to £1,000.
And before he has any hope of becoming a consultant Pearson’s path will be filled with courses and exams, including self-funding a PhD. But, as a second-year medic, he has no money left at the end of the month to pay for them, so he takes on extra work. He doesn’t have the money for essentials.
“I share a rented flat with another doctor. I couldn’t afford the rent on my own. I can’t afford a mortgage— I can’t get the money together for a deposit,” he said. “I had more than £80,000 of student debt, and I was significantly into my overdraft when I started work.
The Times wants junior doctors’ leaders to settle for a “reasonable” sum. That would likely be similar to that which ministers have offered other health workers—and which is recommended by most of their unions.
But there is growing fury among nurses and ambulance workers that the 5 percent they have been offered for this year comes nowhere near the increased cost of living.
“My rent is going up by 7 percent, my energy bills are going up by hundreds of pounds, and my weekly food shop is at least 20 percent more than last year. How is that going to be covered by 5 percent?” a London paramedic told Socialist Worker.
“And, what makes me doubly cross is that my union is recommending we accept this offer.”
In the nurses’ RCN union there is a significant movement from below to reject the offer and return back to the picket lines. Campaigners with the NHS Workers Say No group are asking health workers to vote no to the offer.
A nurse at St Thomas hospital reported last week, “Mass leafleting again this morning has provoked widespread discussion of how bad the deal is. It gives confidence to those wishing to reject it.
“I urge all those areas that now have leaflets to arrange gate leafleting at your hospitals.”Both the RCN and the major Unison union are balloting until Friday 14 April. Other unions have their own ballot timetables.
One nurse wrote on Twitter, “The offer is an insult. The current government is trying to pay off those who worked tirelessly and relentlessly throughout Covid and the past decade of austerity. No thanks.”
Disgracefully the RCN has asked the police to investigate a petition to hold a vote of no-confidence in its leadership. It has also reported the behaviour of other members to social media platforms and the nursing regulator.
Vote Reject campaigners claim they are being bullied and intimidated by union management. Activists need to carry on fighting for no votes until the very last moment.
The best way to create an atmosphere of struggle in the workplace is to join the junior doctors on their picket lines. The best way to fight is to stand together.
Go to NHS workers say NO on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook for campaigning materials against the pay deal.
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