Junior Doctors Determined to Fight against Imposition of Contract
On Thursday November 18, the British Medical Association (BMA) announced that the junior doctors have voted by 98% (27,741) for full strike action, 99.4% (28,120) for action short of striking, in a turnout of 76.2 percent of the 37,155 balloted. The BMA statement said: “Junior doctors have today overwhelmingly voted in favour of taking industrial action after the government’s threat to impose a new junior doctor contract in England from August next year.” Following the result the BMA also announced that it will engage, through ACAS, with the health secretary and NHS employers in a bid to “find a reasonable solution and avoid disruption to patients”. In the BMA press statement, Dr Mark Porter, BMA council chair, commented: “We regret the inevitable disruption that this will cause but it is the government’s adamant insistence on imposing a contract that is unsafe for patients in the future, and unfair for doctors now and in the future, that has brought us to this point.”
In response to the ballot outcome, Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Health, was reported by the BBC as saying that the doctors’ decision was “very, very disappointing” and he arrogantly rejected calls for talks to be held at conciliation service ACAS, although he “would not rule it out completely”. He also claimed: “We put forward a very fair offer for doctors, which will see pay go up for three-quarters of junior doctors. We wanted to talk about this to them, but in the end they have chosen to strike so we will have to put in contingency plans.”
Jeremy Hunt’s remarks are totally misleading and disingenuous. They are also insulting to the junior doctors, who can see, as is borne out by the quite overwhelming vote, that the offer is neither fair, nor will it see an increase in pay. In fact, the government’s hurried “concession” to amend the imposed contract on November 4 just prior to the ballot and ask for talks was only to try and head off the result of the junior doctors’ strike ballot and weaken their position so he could impose the contract. Now he is faced with overwhelming opposition he reveals he has no intention to accept the democratic decision, or even negotiate with the junior doctors but threatens to “put in contingency plans” to continue the attack on their conditions. This anti-social aim of
government is to implement its £20 billion cuts in the NHS as part of its “five year forward view”. This programme is aimed to make the NHS sustainable for the interests of the ruling elite to pay the rich as well as to pay for the fragmentation and privatisation of the NHS. The safe working conditions of the junior doctors and other health care workers, as well as their negotiated pay settlements, are a major obstacle to these plans of government. The government’s real concern is not to “create a 24/7 NHS” as they claim but to radically increase the working hours and impose cuts to the pay of junior doctors and health workers who work 24/7 (see:WW45No.32). But people should note that in attacking the conditions of the junior doctors and other health workers he is also attacking the conditions of the hospital patients.
The question which is seriously being asked is: why is the Health Secretary being so intransigent when it is so widely recognised that justice lies with the junior doctors? Is he simply determined to force them to submit? Is it a form of blackmail relying on the conscience of
the junior doctors tocarry on taking care of patients as if nothing had happened? It is ironic that much has been made of the culture of bullying which runs through the NHS. Now it is clear that this bullying starts at the top. A neo-liberal agenda is being implemented with its method being government by diktat.
What must be recognised is that the working conditions of the junior doctors are the conditions for the health care of hospital patients. The junior doctors are fighting for their patients and the future of the health service. Therefore their fight is in essence to defend the right to health care. The need now is to strengthen the fight as one which represents the interests of all health workers.
The plans of the government can and must be defeated. The working class must through this resistance recognise the need to further build its own opposition and organisation to fight for a new direction for the health service and a pro-social direction for society as a whole.
WWIE again calls on the working class and people to go all out to support the fight of the junior doctors. A victory for the junior doctors is a victory for the whole NHS and for the right to health care for all!
The dates for industrial action are:
08:00 GMT December 1 to 08:00 GMT December 2 (junior doctors to staff emergency care)
08:00 GMT to 17:00 December 8 (full strike)
08:00 GMT to 17:00 December 16 (full strike)