Junior doctors form a core part of the front line staff in our health service.
Without them our NHS would collapse, especially as we approach the winter months.
Junior doctor is a misleading label – it covers all doctors and surgeons other than GPs and hospital consultants. Doctors working in hospital specializations typically spend between 10 and 14 years as “junior” doctors, working punishing hours, with high levels of responsibility, while also studying for further qualifications needed for their specializations.
Now, faced with the threat that new contracts will be imposed, these doctors have voted overwhelmingly for strike action. The decision to strike is not one that any health care worker takes lightly. The junior doctors deserve our support. The future of care in the NHS is at stake.
When the Conservatives scraped into power in May with 36% of the vote, they thought they had a clear path to run the NHS as they pleased – and what they want is to move away from our cherished, publicly owned model, to an insurance-based model like the US health care system.
One of the key pledges in the Conservative Party’s manifesto was to ensure that there is:
“A truly 7-day NHS- so you will always have access to a free and high quality health service when you need it most.”
Conservative Party Manifesto, 2015
That sounds great – but the new contract shows that this is to be achieved by getting already stretched and overworked NHS staff to do even more. Some junior doctors are working up to 90+ hours a week! This is clearly unsustainable for the junior doctors and a risk to the patients that they are providing care for.
The government’s proposals are essentially non-negotiable with 22 out of the 23 proposals being off limits for discussion. To me, that’s not negotiation. It’s an attempt to impose an unfair contract on junior doctors, trapping them into a situation where they would have to accept or take strike action. It wouldn’t surprise me if the government tried to conjure up images of the Winter of Discontent (1978-79), in which public sector workers went on strike on mass.
Rather than enter into real negotiations with the BMA, as the union representing the doctors, Jeremy Hunt has launched a media campaign with the aim of winning a public relations war. He’s attempted to show the doctors as rejecting a decent pay offer (11%) and reduced overtime hours. What he fails to mention is that the number of hours during the working week that are classed as unsociable – and therefore attract an extra payment – is being cut by 25%. So doctors will work more hours at the basic rate.
This is a “cack-handed approach”, in the words of Chuka Umunna on Question Time on the 5th November. However, he didn’t give a clear answer about whether he supported the junior doctors. Only Victoria Corren and Jenny Jones (Green Party Peer) offered any firm support to the plight of the junior doctors.
Now the result of the ballot has been announced, and an overwhelming majority have supported strike action. In Chesterfield, there will be a picket at the Chesterfield Royal Hospital on December 8th. I will be supporting it and urge as many Green Party members and supporters (as well as anyone else who wants to defend the NHS) to join me. I appeal to Toby Perkins, the Labour MP for Chesterfield, to support the junior doctors at this picket and any future pickets in the run up to Christmas.
Furthermore, I will also aim to work with all progressive forces in Chesterfield to support this strike action including the Chesterfield and North Derbyshire Save our NHS Campaign, the Liberal Democrats, TUSC, the Socialist Worker’s Party and Chesterfield Women’s Equality Party.
Chesterfield and North Derbyshire Greens Co-ordinator
The Telegraph, 19th November 2015
BBC News, 19th November 2015
BBC Question Time, 5th November 2015
The Guardian, 19th November 2015