Junior Doctors Balloting on Strike Action

Junior Doctors are being balloted by their union, the BMA over vote strike and other forms of industrial action. This takes place after negotiations on contract changes have dragged on for three years. The government has shown itself unwilling to take account of patient safety or of the doctors’ welfare. Secretary of State Hunt seems intent on provoking a conflict in which the government will use major force in an attempt to eliminate union organisation among doctors. The BMA deserves and requires the support of the public and the trade union movement. Don’t let them fight alone!

The government “has stripped of its halo any occupation hitherto honored and looked up to” (The Communist Manifesto). Trades and professions have come under attack in order to create a climate in which it may seem acceptable to close industries and cut services, and also, just as importantly for the ruling class, to undermine trades union organisation.

The Department of Health is trying to force a new contract on the doctors which affects pay, unsociable hours work and increments. The employers wish to remove payments for unsociable working on Saturdays and before ten in the evening; institute a system of performance related pay; reduce on-call pay and make doctors available on standby for longer periods. Junior doctors have said the new hours will discourage new entrants into emergency services as routine hours of work will go up from 60 to 90 a week. The new contract will adversely affect specialist training, including that for general practitioners.

The Junior Doctors pulled out of talks last year over the issues of patient safety and doctor’s welfare. The government called on the remuneration body to carry out a review. However NHS England did not provide adequate data to the body, so when the report was issued, Junior Doctors did not re-enter negotiations.

In September, employers in England announced they would impose the new contract, on conditions that are worse than those rejected by doctors last year. The BMA have said they cannot return to negotiations with an employer that is threatening to impose conditions on them. In Wales and Scotland there has been no such decision to impose a new contract on medical staff.

Another factor in this dispute is that the Tories, in their 2015 election manifesto, trumpeted their plan to have a 7 day-a-week Health Service by 2020, for patients “wherever they are and whenever they need it”. This flawed policy is part of the government’s PsyOps. Doctors’ leaders have pointed out that the recruitment crisis would make a seven-day plan unworkable, and pursuit of it will destabilise the NHS. By insisting on their populist goal the government have made enemies of the junior doctors, hospital consultants and GPs; but then their aim is to hit at union organisation among doctors.

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