Junior doctors’ strike success

by Daphne Liddle

AROUND 16,000 junior doctors all around the country took strike action last Tuesday, with picket lines at about 100 hospitals from 8am.

They were joined in these picket lines by local NHS campaigners, pensioners, local trades councils and other union activists in a massive show of solidarity.

The junior doctors were providing emergency cover only — meaning that a lot of appointments, check-ups and non-urgent treatments had to be postponed.

But public support for the doctors remained high with almost non-stop toots of support from passing vehicles at most picket lines.

Most members of the public understand that doctors working extreme long hours and overtired are likely to make mistakes, possibly with very serious consequences.

But that is exactly what would happen if the Government goes ahead and imposes the new terms and conditions contract, which is at the heart of the dispute, on the doctors.

Described by the British Medical Association as “Not safe and not fair”, the contract would effectively do away with the concept of weekends for doctors — and all other hospital workers.

All NHS hospitals are, of course, already open at weekends for the care of inpatients and for the treatment of accident and emergency cases. And the doctors who work at weekends get a higher rate of pay for those hours.

Under the new contract appointments and treatments would be carried at weekends just the same as on any other day, and there would be no extra money for weekend working nor for a longer day worked during the week.

In November last year doctors voted by 98 per cent for industrial action to try to stop the imposition of the new contract.

BMA junior doctors’ committee chair Johann Malawana said: “Junior doctors feel they have been left with no option but to take this action.

“We have been clear throughout this process that we want to negotiate a contract that is safe and fair, and delivers for junior doctors, patients and the NHS as whole.

“This remains our goal and our door is open to talks. But the Government must address our concerns around safe working patterns and ensure the contract recognises the long, intense and unsocial hours which junior doctors do.”

GP trainee John Sykes attended the picket line at the Royal United Hospital in Bath where around 100 people, including doctors, nurses and NHS supporters, gathered.

Dr Sykes said that as a GP trainee he would receive pay protection under Government proposals but that he was taking action to support his colleagues who face working longer hours.

“I have had more conversations this week with my colleagues about wanting to quit their jobs than I have ever had in my career,” he said.

He said his current job in a GP surgery was very different to the very long and exhausting hours he had worked in a hospital and the change had made him a different person.

Currently talks are proceeding at the arbitration and conciliation service Acas to try to avert two future planned strikes as follows:

In December three days of industrial action were suspended at the 11th hour following conciliatory talks between the BMA, NHS Employers and the Department of Health.

Messages of support have come from many other trade unions, the World Medical Association and a group of doctors in Gaza. One was from the World Medical Association.

Its president Sir Michael Marmot said: “In this case it is clear that patient care would suffer in the long term if the Government’s proposals to change the working hours of junior doctors goes ahead.

“We note the widespread support given to junior doctors among the public and across the National Health Service and we would urge the British Government to establish a new working relationship with junior doctors. It is essential that trust is restored on both sides for the sake of patient care.”

Labour leaders Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell joined the picket line outside St Thomas’ in London.

In a fringe meeting at the Labour Party conference last September Corbyn and Mc- Donnell announced that the Labour Party will now “automatically” support strikes taken by trade unions.