Massive support for striking doctors

by Daphne Liddle

THOUSANDS of people, including a large contingent of teachers, braved hail and snow to rally in central London on Tuesday evening to support the cause of the junior doctors in their latest strike against the imposition of a new working contract which they say is “unfair and unsafe”.

This was the first all-out strike in this dispute — with the junior doctors offering no cover for emergencies between the hours of 8am and 5pm on Tuesday and Wednesday this week.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was among the protesters as he gave his full support to the doctors’ cause and spoke at the rally in Whitehall, outside the headquarters of the Department for Health.

He told the crowd: “Don’t worry, not all Jeremys are bad.” He told them that the NHS is “under threat from a Government that is more interested in attacking the core of the NHS than supporting the NHS and people that keep us all alive”.

“I have come here today to say thank you to everyone who works in the NHS for all that you do in whatever grade you are.

“Whether you’re a cleaner, a catering worker, a porter, a nurse, an auxiliary, a manager or somebody working in an area of medical records and all the others.

“All of us have benefited from the skill of what are called junior doctors. In reality they shouldn’t be called junior doctors — they are highly skilled people who have sown their commitment to our NHS.”

Corbyn pointed out that the British Medical Association, which represents the striking doctors, had made every effort to negotiate an agreement — even suggesting that the new contract should be tested in a pilot study and evaluated properly before being imposed throughout the NHS in August.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt rejected across - party plan for a new work contract to be piloted before a national roll-out and MPs had called for the contract to be “independently evaluated in operation and a study made of its impact on mortality rates at weekends”.

Since the last junior doctor ’s strike in March the BMA has maintained a negotiating table outside the NHS headquarters in Richmond House, Whitehall with a chair with Hunt’s name on it to urge him to enter into talks with BMA representatives who have kept a vigil there.

Instead of taking up the opportunity Hunt used a chauffeur-driven limousine to travel the few hundred yards between Downing Street and the House of Commons to avoid having to walk past the vigil or speak to the doctors there.

But Hunt remained intransigent and appeared quite gleeful at the prospect of the first all-out strike. If he was hoping that such measures would destroy public support for the doctors he was wrong — it remains high at 57 per cent according to opinion polls.

Hunt’s real agenda is the destruction and privatisation of the NHS. He wants to sow ill will between the patients and their NHS doctors and to see large numbers of doctors demoralised and leaving the service. And he is being backed by David Cameron and the rest of the Tory Cabinet.

The doctors have been put into an impossible situation. They must fight this new contract which will force them to work at weekends for the same pay and doing the same sort of work as on weekdays. But the Government is providing no extra money to pay the numbers of extra staff who will be needed for this.

Doctors will be forced to work for lower weekend pay and for hours that are so long they will be dangerous for patients’ safety.

This is why public support for the doctors and against the Tories’ ulterior privatisation strategy is so important.

Corbyn also told the rally that Jeremy Hunt had “had every opportunity to negotiate an agreement for the junior doctors”.

“They are the ones who have behaved in a responsible manner, to say they are here to defend the NHS. His response is to try and impose a contract on them. That is no way for a Secretary of State to behave towards one of the most crucial elements of the NHS workforce,” Corbyn added.

“Today we are here to show our support for them and our National Health Service and say to Jeremy Hunt, the NHS is absolutely safe in the hands of those who work in it — the junior doctors who work day in, day out to keep us all safe and healthy.

“It’s not safe in the hands of a government that is more interested in attacking those who work in the NHS, selling off its assets and destroying the very principles of our National Health Service.”