In the face of the government’s refusal to negotiate, junior doctors are again on strike today and tomorrow, 26th and 27th April, 8am-5pm each day. This time the doctors are withdrawing all their labour, i.e. not doing any type of shift.
On television, viewers were told that the presenter was going to confront junior doctors with members of the public who were “vehemently opposed” to their strike. However, outside Gateshead’s Queen Elizabeth hospital they would have struggled to find anyone opposed to the strike.
People passing by the picket line were stopping to give words of encouragement. Cars, vans, taxis and buses were all tooting. Consultants were out on their break, and Unison members arrived with hot drinks, all in a show of solidarity.
It’s clear the junior doctors are now becoming seasoned strikers. One of them commented that initially he had expected media coverage to be unbiased, showing views from both sides of the strike. Others were having very serious discussions on how best to take the strike forward. The mood on the picket line despite the sleet and bitingly cold wind was upbeat. The junior doctors are determined they will not be brow-beaten by Jeremy Hunt.
St Thomas’, London
The picket lines are just as big and just as determined as ever at St Thomas’ this morning. Strikers were still getting great public support from traffic, bus drivers and passers-by.
The joint teachers and BMA demo due to take place later in the day was particularly popular – junior doctors are keen to link up with teachers who are preparing for strike action themselves and were looking forward to the demo, which will start at their hospital.
Some took extra supplies of the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) leaflet advertising the demo to give out.
The picket line at Newham hospital was more than double the size of previous strikes. Junior doctors who had provided emergency cover in previous strikes now joined the picket line, as did doctors coming bleary eyed off a long night shift.
A stream of staff and patients going into the hospital stopped to support the strike including the consultants who were providing cover for the strike. The mood of the strikers was determined. The Socialist Party’s call for solidarity action was enthusiastically received.
More than in previous strikes there was a widespread feeling that the public support needs to be turned into concrete solidarity action because a victory for junior doctors would be a victory for all workers, especially public sector workers. Everyone on the picket line (except those coming off night shift!) was planning to travel to central London later in the day to join the joint demonstration with the NUT as a first step to building solidarity.
Royal Free, London
Around 50 people joined the picket line this morning. Mainly junior doctors but also supporters. What a response to Hunt’s bullying! “They want a health system like the US or Australia. It would still be called the NHS but it would be a two tier system where only those who can pay get proper treatment”, said one picket.
Lots of NHS staff, including many consultants who are providing cover, came up to get badges and stickers to wear at work today and tomorrow. Junior doctors really appreciated the public support, from specially wrapped ‘heart NHS’ homemade biscuits, to the toots and bells from passing traffic, to the people queuing up to sign the petition to support their claim.
More junior doctors than in previous strikes joined the very start of the sunny picket line at Whipps Cross hospital, East London. One doctor told me it was even more important to be on the picket line as they take their first day of all-out strike action. Every doctor we spoke to said they were going to the central London march later today. During this round of action junior doctors are going to schools to speak to teachers in the NUT union about the strike.
King George, London
Video: junior doctors explain why they are striking.
Warrington hospital picket line was supported by Socialist Party members, TUSC supporters and members of the trades council.
One doctor said he was striking because the contracts were being imposed. “We are being blamed for the lack of a seven-day NHS”. Hunt isn’t going to put forward extra resources or staff. He emphasised: “This is not about Saturday pay”.
Debbie from the local TUSC group was supporting the strike. She said it was about protecting the NHS for the future. “Doctors work hard and should be treated with more respect” by Hunt and the government.
Junior doctors were out in force in Bristol today, forming easily the largest picket lines of the dispute so far. Public support seemed unwavering as did the desire of the doctors to fight the imposition of a dangerous new contract.
Discussing the contract one doctor said they may have been targeted because the BMA hadn’t been very active in the recent past but that the strike had changed this. Others agreed that an unintended consequence for the government was that more health workers and young people are getting politically active and challenging them. This politicisation and activism can only be a good thing. The more people that join the doctors on strike the stronger they will all be.
Junior doctors were again on strike at King’s Mill hospital, Sutton-in-Ashfield. Countless horns sounded from passing traffic. Supporters brought sandwiches and crisps to sustain the growing crowd. Mansfield Socialist Party members were thanked for our continued support.
Junior doctors are showing the trade unions a thing or two about protest, and giving workers confidence to struggle.
These doctors are not striking over pay; they know Hunt and the Tories want to destroy the NHS as we know it and sell it to their profiteering mates. The trade unions must show solidarity with all health workers and build for a 24-hour general strike in support of the NHS.
A pile of doughnuts: more socially useful than Tory health minister, Jeremy Hunt! Photo: Steve German (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)
At their picket lines and protests up and down the country, junior doctors have consistently deployed the use of an empty chair with Tory health minister Jeremy Hunt’s name on it. This empty chair is used to symbolise Hunt’s consistent absence and continual refusal to even sit down and begin to negotiate a settlement with them.
Today was no different here at Taunton’s Musgrove Park hospital in Somerset, with the hospital providing the backdrop to two very large and extremely lively junior doctors’ picket lines on Tuesday 26th April.
Pointing to the ‘Hunt chair’, Tom Johnston said: “As you can see, Hunt has once again failed to turn up today so we have loaded up ‘his’ chair with a pile of doughnuts donated to the picket line by supporters of our strike … as you can also see, the pile of doughnuts are clearly far more useful to society than Jeremy Hunt could ever be!”
Harvey Johnson, a foundation first year doctor said: “Of course we would prefer not to have to strike, however as Hunt has given us no other choice it would make far more strategic sense to coordinate our strike action with other public sector workers such as teachers, firefighters and local government workers currently engaged in a monumental struggle to defend jobs and services”.
Patric Hart agreed, before adding: “There should be absolutely no place for any outsourcing or privatisation within the NHS.”
There were more doctors than ever on the picket line. Turning up with their children they were determined to send Jeremy Hunt a message of No to imposed contracts. “They have taken on the wrong people”, said one. The noise of honking cars was almost continuous at times.
There were more than double the usual number of junior doctors on their picket lines at both Sheffield’s major hospitals.
They were boosted by a letter signed by 260 Sheffield consultants saying that they supported the strike. In fact they had said that they had the wards covered so the juniors had to go on the picket lines.
At the Northern General Hospital, over 50 pickets stood behind two empty chairs, one with HUNT on, the other with CASH.
These vacant chairs represented Hunt’s refusal to negotiate and the failure of Andrew Cash, Sheffield Teaching Hospital’s chief executive, to meet with junior doctors locally.
Around 40 delegates from Usdaw conference visited the junior doctors’ picket line in Blackpool during the lunchtime of the Usdaw conference, including three Usdaw EC members.
On a picket line of 20 junior doctors at the Huddersfield Royal Infirmary I spoke to Dr Katie Hames who was angry at Hunt’s claim that their action was an attempt to topple the government. Katie was not impressed with the claim that junior doctors have been ‘brainwashed’ by their union the BMA. She explained that all this was designed to try to destroy doctors’ morale. What it is all about is the safety of patients and the future of the NHS.
27 April – second of the two strike days
Maudsley and King’s College, London
Pickets at King’s College Hospital and the Maudsley in south London brimmed with confidence on 27 April. Spreading the action to junior doctors in emergency and intensive care brought out fresh strikers who have been waiting for the chance to protest.
Denmark Hill, which separates the two hospitals, was deafening. Nearly every other driver leant on the horn in support. Backing for the strike seemed visibly higher as a result of the escalation.
Many pickets had marched on the thousands-strong joint demonstration between doctors’ union BMA and teachers’ union NUT the previous evening. Socialist Party members in the unions and National Shop Stewards Network worked hard to help this happen. The combined protest – and obvious appetite from members of both unions for combined strikes – boosted morale.
One picket at King’s had attended a fringe meeting at the recent conference of public sector union Unison. He reported that Unison members were urging their union to join the doctors’ struggle, but the leadership seemed to be holding this back.
Coventry and Warwickshire
NUT members joined junior doctors on the picket line outside the hospital along with local trade unionists from the Ipswich and District TUC at 5pm, to coincide with the march and rally in London.
I spoke to Sadia from the BMA along with her colleagues about conditions in the hospital. She said things are on the brink. Last Friday-Sunday her consultant was on duty for 72 hours and because Sadia as the anaesthetist working the 12-hour night shift over the weekend – and the registrar did the same on the day shift – were so busy, the consultant had just six hours of sleep the whole weekend.
She also said the consultants had been fantastic in their support during the juniors’ strikes and the support within the hospital in general had been brilliant. As we stood on the picket line the hooting from the cars never stopped.
This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 26 April 2016 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.