Junior doctors demonstrating in London on 6.2.16, photo Paul Mattsson

Junior doctors demonstrating in London on 6.2.16, photo Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Determined junior doctors fight on

United workers’ action can stop Hunt and save the NHS

The BMA is preparing for three 48-hour strikes to fight the imposition of a contract by the Tories. As part of that preparation, 25 junior doctors presented a petition to the Department of Health with 50,000 signatures this morning.
Sarah Sachs-Eldridge spoke to some of them.
Junior doctor Jeanna, 24.2.16, photo by Sarah Sachs-Eldridge

Junior doctor Jeanna, 24.2.16, photo by Sarah Sachs-Eldridge   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Jeanna, a junior doctor from Leicester, explained that the BMA is very firm:
“I think that we’re determined. Morale has been affected by this and especially by the government deciding to impose the contract, despite 54,000 junior doctors acting as whistle-blowers saying that it isn’t a safe contract. Now we have a bit of renewed purpose.”

She explained: “We’re part of a grassroots effort called ‘Meet the Doctors’. We’ve been campaigning since before industrial action across the country, engaging with the public and amongst other things collecting signatures for a petition addressed to David Cameron about the unfairness of the junior doctor contract and the need not to force it on us through the method of imposition.

“So that’s what we’re doing today – delivering the 50,000 signatures we’ve collected since November to the Department of Health. A lot of times people asked us to sign – we didn’t even approach them!”

Doctors with their petitions, London 24.2.16, photo by S. Sachs-Eldridge

Doctors with their petitions, London 24.2.16, photo by S. Sachs-Eldridge   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

But this is not just being aimed at Jeremy Hunt. Jeanna said: “It’s more than just about Hunt. David Cameron is the prime minister and he doesn’t have to impose this on us.

“August is an arbitrary date that they’ve selected. There’s no rush to move this through so why don’t we just get the contract right – so it’s safe and sustainable. But part of the problem is that the government keep talking about a seven-day NHS but we already have an emergency seven-day NHS. What we don’t have is an elective seven-day NHS and they’re trying to fund that with five days of budget and that’s just inconceivable.”

Further action

We discussed about the new round of action and the potential for uniting with other workers. Jeanna said: “I’m from the east midlands and locally I’ve been getting quite a lot of interest from local chapters of different unions asking me to come and speak and explain to them what the issues are. I don’t think this is just about our contract but about the very future of the NHS.”

I asked Jeanna what trade union members can do to back up the BMA. She said: “The first thing to do is to talk to people about it – get in touch with us. There’s loads of us on social media. We’ll happily come and chat to people about the dispute. I know there’s been some growing interest in having demonstrations that are multi-union and if people think, and I can’t imagine that they wouldn’t, that they have something that is worth balloting their membership for about their own issues regarding industrial action then I think they should go for it.”

24.2.16, photo by S. Sachs-Eldridge

24.2.16, photo by S. Sachs-Eldridge   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

I also spoke to Max, a junior doctor from Manchester: “There’s no secret that if this contract is imposed on us then they’ll roll it out to the rest of the healthcare profession. From there it will only be rolled out further in terms of the public sector. We’re worried that if we allow the conditions of our work to mean that every day is the same and there’s no weekend then you basically become a slave to your contract. You end up living to work rather than being able to have any kind of lifestyle. We think that’s completely wrong.

“The best chance we have is if everyone joins together; I know there are huge other campaigns going one – if you look at the NHS bursaries for nurses and things like that, so it’s not like everyone else hasn’t got their gripes and their causes to fight for. So I think it’s a great time for everyone to come together and to really show a united front. The fact is that the vast majority of the public are in support of us and support of the NHS and against what the government’s doing.”

The Socialist Party suggests the next steps should include:

  • Mass joint trade union meetings to discuss the next steps including support action on the new strike days
  • United local trade union and community protests to compel Trusts to maintain the existing nationally agreed contracts
  • Call on Jeremy Corbyn to instigate an emergency meeting of the Labour NEC and TUC to look at organising a mass demonstration and solidarity action in support of the junior doctors and to save the NHS
  • Coordinated strike action across the NHS in defence of pay and terms and conditions as a step towards a 24-hour general strike

The coming strikes can be combined with applying pressure on hospital trusts. Hunt already faces opposition among the trust chief executives he claimed supported him. And he cannot compel the 152 Foundation Trusts to impose his contract.

But the BMA, backed by trade unions, trades councils, health campaigners and local communities, could compel trusts to maintain the existing national agreement and not impose Hunt’s contract. Over 50 junior doctors at St George’s trust have written to the chief executive there asking him to resist Hunt. Such actions could be combined with mobilising big protests to pressure trustees to confirm non-imposition.

The junior doctors can win. But they have rightly said that the health service must be defended on all fronts. This needs a socialist programme for the NHS which would reverse all privatisation, scrap PFI and end all the cuts in pay, pensions and services.
Nationalising the pharmaceutical industry would save billions of pounds. Democratic socialist planning of a publicly owned and run NHS with the full funding needed would end the real threat it now faces to its existence.