Junior doctors in the BMA (British Medical Association) have voted by an overwhelming 98% for strikes over the unfair and unsafe new contracts, on a turn out of 76%.
The huge ″yes″ vote and turnout will be a huge boost to morale for doctors and others campaigning to save the NHS. Already the press is hunting for the one or two doctors who will not strike to speak out, yet the junior doctors′ dispute has a lot of public support. The BMA set the dates for strikes in advance of the ballot result, and has confirmed the dates now as 1, 8 and 16 December. Doctors will provide emergency-only care on 1 and 8 December, meaning routine operations and outpatient clinics will be closed. On 16 December junior doctors will not provide any cover, with consultants and staff doctors committing to fill in for emergency cover — increasing the disruption as consultants are taken from specialised clinics to provide emergency cover.
Setting three strikes in advance, with an escalation of disruption, shows junior doctors are serious and have thought about industrial strategy. In fact it is better than most public sector unions managed in the pensions and pay national strikes in the last five years. During the ballot Jeremy Hunt tried, and failed, to buy off doctors and turn the public against them by offering junior doctors an 11% rise on their basic pay. Yet this would not change the huge loss of pay junior doctors are expecting from the increase in the hours that doctors are expected to work on their basic rate. It also does nothing to address the issues of workload and unsafe working hours.
The junior doctors′ dispute is about more than just their pay or working hours. A large number of placards on the 20,000 strong London demonstration linked the demands to the slogan ″save the NHS″. The dispute over junior doctors′ contracts is opening up the discussion about the funding of and privatisation of the NHS. A whole raft of other NHS workers are affected by these issues as well. Join doctors’ picket lines on 1, 8 and 16 December, pass motions of solidarity in your union branches, and get involved in campaigning to save the NHS.