On 9-11 March thousands of junior doctors will take to the picket lines again. The first of three 48 hour periods of "emergency care only" provision marks a serious turning point in the dispute. The stakes are high.
The government has been clear it plans to impose this contract regardless of complaints from doctors, dismay from hospital trusts, and objections from general public opinion. This is no longer just about junior doctors. In truth it never has been. From the beginning the government has failed to distinguish between this contractual dispute and wider NHS issues. Using false statistics, deliberate misinterpretation and unfounded claims, its agenda has always been to discredit the current system, demoralise its workforce and prepare our National Health Service for further privatisation.
On 11 March, the NHS Reinstatement Bill will come before Parliament. Since it comes as a "private member's bill", from Green MP Caroline Lucas, the debate will be short and probably filibustered by the Tories. The Bill is unlikely to pass. But it is important because it states our own positive image of how we see our National Health Service. Unashamedly publicly funded, publicly run, without any form of market within it. The growing support within Labour circles for the Bill is a positive move.
These next few months present a potential watershed moment for our NHS. Rocked by austerity and funding cuts it stands on the brink. As social care is decimated, more burdens fall upon the NHS. Jeremy Hunt’s blustering statement (6 March) that he "wants Britain to be the best place in the world to live well with dementia" only highlights how privatised social care is failing our elderly and infirm. The junior doctors’ contract dispute, the health students' bursaries campaign, and other battles should be pulled together into a sustainable long running campaign in support of our National Health Service. It will require the support and commitment of our trade unions, the Labour Party and the TUC. To reverse the current trajectory on the NHS will require a huge effort. For a generation the levers of power have pushed us further and further towards the edge. To counter this, we must all to defend the NHS, argue against austerity and fight for the society we want to see.
NHS students in new walkout
By Joe Cullen, student nurse
In a show of solidarity with the junior doctors' 48-hour strike, student nurses have pledged a second walkout on 9 March. This is a reaction to the government's announced changes to the student nurse university funding program. Instead of receiving a bursary ranging from £1,000 to £4,000 and an exemption from tuition fees, future student nurses will have their bursary replaced with a loan, and will have to pay tuition fees. Many aspiring nurses will now be unable to enrol on the course. The resulting shortages will spell disaster for the future of an already understaffed, under-appreciated profession. Despite their supernumerary status, student nurses know the reality of the NHS means that they must become a full member of the nursing staff when we are on placement, the only difference being that our salary is many times less of a registered nurse. Future student nurses will have to fulfil the same duties as before, and pay for the privilege of doing so! The walkout will take place between 10 a.m. and noon on Wednesday 9 March. The RCN does not support the walkout.