Junior doctors stepped up the pressure on the Tories on Friday as they returned to picket lines across England for the fifth time in their long-running dispute over pay.
The BMA union called its members out at 7am and they will not return until the same time next Tuesday. Consultant doctors are also due to strike for two days from 24 August.
That means hospitals will be running with a bare minimum of staff and most planned care will be postponed.
Doctors say they will continue their strikes until the government makes serious moves to restore their pay after more than a decade of cuts. But the Tories have for weeks refused any talks—despite treatment waiting times rocketing upwards (see below).
Louise, a doctor and union rep at the Royal London Hospital in the city’s east end, told Socialist Worker that her picket line was strong and that people on it remained determined.
“The strike is going really well here, and we’ve had quite a good turnout this morning,” she said. “And, I’ve heard pretty much the same thing from other picket lines too.
“There is a sense of resignation about the strike though as we’ve come to realise that this might be going on for some time. I think most people are committed to sticking with it.”
The walkout came as new foundation year 1 doctors started their first roles after medical school. While some were apprehensive, others were keen to join the action.
“The new doctors will be the chief beneficiary of this strike,” said Louise. “After all, they are the people on the lowest pay.”
Starting junior doctors earn an hourly rate of just £14.09 an hour, and often carry over £100,000 in student debt after their years of training.
One new doctor told the Guardian newspaper, “Rent has gone up, the cost of living has gone up, and pay has not gone up. It’s a really difficult time for unions to ask us to strike.
“I 100 percent support it and will be striking, even though I will struggle [financially]. It’s more important I do this for my future colleagues, to ensure they get better pay.”
Several hundred junior doctors followed picket line duties by going to an upbeat protest rally in central London. There the mood was strongly anti-Tory with many donning the BMA’s orange bucket hats and homemade placards that explained why they are so angry.
One junior doctor speaking at the rally pointed to the surrounding buildings in Whitehall, saying, “We’ve all been lied to by the people working in these places.”
He is right. The chief secretary to the Treasury, John Glen, today ruled out pay negotiations with the doctors. He said, “A 35 percent pay increase, which is what they’re asking for, is completely unrealistic.
“It would be sending completely the wrong signal to the economy and to the wider public at a time when obviously inflationary pressures are the top priority of the government.”
That clampdown approach is already leading to a mass exodus from the NHS as doctors head to Australia, Canada and the Caribbean, where the money and conditions offered are far better.
Junior doctors are balloting for more strikes. Under the anti-strike laws, they can currently strike only until late August.
The understaffing and under-resourcing crisis in the NHS is what really lies behind the long waiting lists and collapse of services. That’s why all workers should get behind the doctors and deliver solidarity to their picket lines.
The number of people waiting for hospital treatment hit record new levels this week, according to official data. It’s a massive blow against Tory leader Rishi Sunak who pledged to cut care backlogs by the end of the year.
Waiting lists for procedures such as hip and knee replacements rose to 7.6 million people in June according to NHS England. That’s an increase of over 100,000 since May.
The figures show that at the end of June, just over 40 percent of patients were waiting more than 18 weeks to begin treatment, compared to the NHS target of just 8 percent.
They also show growing pressure on emergency services, with 535,000 emergency hospital admissions in July—up by 7.7 percent on the year before.
Sunak’s response is to try and pin the blame for the crisis on health strikers—from nurses and ambulance workers to radiographers and doctors.
But everyone knows that waiting lists have been rising since shortly after the Tories got back into office in 2010. The government’s refusal to increase health spending as the general population grows older and sicker is the real reason behind agonising waiting times.
Nicola Ranger, chief nursing officer at the Royal College of Nursing union, said the data showed the NHS was “falling into deeper crisis”.
She added that a decade of under-investment had led to “dire consequences for patients and pushed many nursing staff out of the profession… with unrelenting pressure on those who remain”.
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