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The junior doctors strikes put pressure on weak Tories

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Junior doctors stood strong on pickets this week and refused a 6 percent ‘final offer’ from the government, writes Yuri Prasad
Issue 2864
Junior doctors BMA NHS

Junior doctors on picket lines last week at the Royal London Hospital (Picture: Guy Smallman)

The fight over NHS pay is heating up again—and it’s ­piling pressure on the Tories. Junior doctors continued their strikes into the beginning of this week, while consultant doctors were set to walk out on Thursday (see right).

In a bid to halt the action, Tory prime minister Rishi Sunak last week imposed a new pay offer on millions of public sector workers, including the doctors.

The PA News agency reported that the government wanted to offer junior doctors 6 percent, plus a ­consolidated lump sum of £1,250. 

That comes nowhere close to the BMA union’s demand for full pay restoration after years of cuts. It has rightly insisted on a rise of 35 ­percent this year.

The union responded angrily to Sunak’s speech, saying the “announcement represents yet another pay cut in real terms and serves only to increase the losses faced by doctors after more than a decade’s worth of sub-inflation pay awards.

“The BMA will continue to fight for the full restoration of pay lost since 2008.” The prime minister said that his 6 percent rise would not be covered by additional spending.

Instead, he said, the money would come from existing ­budgets—and from increased fees for migrant visas for those coming to work in Britain (see right).

The announcement came after strikers had packed up their picket lines for the day. But earlier that morning the mood on picket lines was upbeat and angry.

At St Thomas Hospital, just across the river from parliament, one picket told Socialist Worker, “It’s obvious to everyone who works at or uses the NHS that there are serious issues. 

“Waiting times at A&E, long waits for ambulances, and ­cancelled appointments because there’s not enough staff are just some examples.

“Pay is just one part of this strike, but it is important. I know really good doctors who are leaving the job, or are being forced to move back home because London is so expensive.

“Pay can fix those issues and attract new health workers to train to join the NHS. So our demand for full pay restoration hasn’t gone away.”

Another striking doctor said they were overwhelmed by the spirit on the picket line. “Today has been really great, lots of chanting and energy,” they said.

“We’ve had support from patients, bus drivers and retired NHS ­workers. We’re showing people that we are going to win. 

“That’s why we need more strikes. And us being here, in view of parliament, sends a message.

“We haven’t been listened to, which is frustrating, but expected. That’s why we are on strike again.” The strike has put the ­desperately weak Tories under massive pressure. 

The action makes it impossible for them to fulfil their pledge to bring down hospital waiting times—and the walkouts are proving far more popular with ordinary people than the government ever expected. 

Their new pay offer will do ­nothing to fill the staffing gaps in the NHS. 

The unions must stand strong for their members—and for ­everyone who relies on the health service.

Consultants to join the action

Hospital consultant doctors plan to step up their pay fight by striking this Thursday and Friday. And, they’ll walk out again on 24 and 25 August, their BMA union said this week.

In the same way their junior doctor counterparts want rises to make up for over a decade of pay erosion, consultants want a 35 percent rise to make up for real‑term pay cuts since 2010. 

But they are prepared for this rise to be staggered over several years, so long as this year’s offer matches inflation.

So far, at least 650,000 appointments and surgeries have been cancelled during NHS strikes. And the Tory pledge to reduce the 7.5 million-strong NHS waiting list already lies in tatters.

The number of patients waiting more than a year for treatment has rocketed by 15 percent.

NHS England data shows there were 333,119 patients waiting 52 weeks for treatment in May 2022. By May 2023 the number had soared to 385,022.

Tory health secretary this week sought to pin the crisis on consultants that already earn a “significant amount of money”. He thinks it’s outrageous that the most senior doctors earn roughly the same amount as him.

But his real aim is to try and turn public anger at the rundown of the health service against those that work in it.  And, he hopes to divide consultants from junior doctors and then divide junior doctors from nurses and other staff.

That’s why the 6 percent pay rise being imposed on public sector workers is not being applied to the hundreds of thousands of NHS workers whose unions accepted a 5 percent deal for this year. 

We should all get behind every health worker fighting for decent pay.

Hospital promises were lies 

Disgraced Tory former prime minister Boris Johnson promised 40 new hospitals during his election 2019 campaign. But a new report on the project reveals the government will only finish building 32 of them by 2030.

And, many of the “new” hospitals aren’t actually hospitals at all. Some are rebuilds of hospital wings or a major “refurbishment”—while others are being built so small that they won’t fit even the existing number of patients in.

Those are some of the shocking conclusions of a damning report by the National Audit Office (NAO)  this week.

Their investigation also highlighted problems with a government plan to use mass-produced, pre-constructed hospitals. 

As part of its design for the new “hospital 2.0”, the Tories came up with plans for what would be the “minimum viable hospital”. That’s the cheapest functioning facility. But planning flaws could mean many patients turned away.

The NAO says this specification risks being “too small”. The estimated capacity of new hospitals is based on assumptions it says “may be unrealistic” about the number of people able to be moved out of hospitals to social care.

And the department of health estimates that say average stays will fall by 12 percent “seems poorly supported by the evidence”.

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