The battle to beat the government over NHS pay is on again. Victory is crucial not just for the workers involved but for the survival of the health service.
Tens of thousands of junior doctors across England in the BMA union were set for a 72-hour strike beginning at 7am on Wednesday this week. They are again on the front line of a broader battle by all NHS workers.
Paul, a radiology doctor and BMA member in the east of England told Socialist Worker, “It’s uplifting to feel wider support for doctors on strike and to know that other NHS workers are behind us.
“There are similar problems facing all of us whether you are a doctor, nurse or all the other grades and professions that are campaigning for better pay. None of us are being unreasonable, we are all in one fight. I hope everyone will support us and increase that sense of solidarity.”
Junior doctors are vital to the NHS. They make up around half of all hospital doctors in England and a quarter of all doctors working in GP surgeries. The BMA says junior doctors in England have suffered a pay cut of 26.1 percent from 2008-9 to 2021-22 once inflation is taken into account. The soaring inflation this year makes that worse.
Ministers have offered only a 5 percent rise. The union is pushing for 35 percent to achieve “pay restoration” to the 2008 level.
On every picket line this week there will be stories of burnt out staff and an NHS on the brink of collapse. The damage doesn’t come from the strike but from years of underfunding and rampant privatisation.
New figures announced last week showed waiting lists at another record high, with 7.4 million people in England waiting to start treatment as of the end of April. They are rising despite Rishi Sunak making reducing them one of his key pledges.
Paul says, “When we started strikes, we hoped that a short period of determined action would settle the issue. None of us wants to harm the NHS, so this seemed the least disruptive option.
“But the government hasn’t moved. So now we are in our third phase of strikes, and there is talk of three strike days every month through the summer.
“Even people who were initially reluctant strikers tell me how important it is that we keep going and we win. They feel betrayed.
“All the notions that are supposed to matter—a reward for hard work, fair play, the chance to progress for you and your family—have all been undermined. People are also determined to strike because they worry about the state of the NHS. There’s a cheapening of all healthcare workers and constant pressure.”
Everyone should rally around the pickets this week.
Cancer patients face life-threatening hospital delays and the prospect of more gruelling treatment as a result of NHS staff shortages made worse by falling pay. The Royal College of Radiologists warned last week of “chronic staff shortages”, with patients waiting too long for vital tests and treatments.
Half of all cancer units are now reporting frequent delays for radiotherapy and chemotherapy. New figures show 22,533 patients in England were waiting more than two months for either cancer diagnosis or treatment at the end of April, up from 19,023 at the end of March. According to one head of service at a cancer centre, prostate radiotherapy patients in their area were facing a three month minimum wait, while breast cancer patients had a seven to eight week wait.
In June 2022, Carol Fletcher, from Usk in South Wales, finally had her routine screening appointment for breast cancer, which was itself overdue. “It took another eight weeks after my mammogram before I was told there might be something wrong,” she said.
Since her cancer diagnosis, there have been more waits. “I was told that I might not get results back quickly after my mastectomy because they haven’t got enough pathologists, so there was another eight-week delay for chemotherapy,” she said.
Scottish junior doctors have voted heavily to reject a pay offer from the Scottish government of an aggregate 14.5 percent uplift over two years. This is better than what’s on the table in England, but still far below inflation.
In a consultative vote over 71 percent rejected the deal with a turnout of 66 percent. BMA Scotland’s leaders made no recommendation on how to vote. But they have now said there will be a three-day strike from 12-15 July unless there’s a better offer.
The result of the vote comes after up-to-date calculations based on new inflation figures show junior doctor pay has now fallen in real terms by 28.5 percent for foundation year doctors since 2008.
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