98 per cent of junior doctors vote for strikes
By Merle Streck
A ballot of more than 37,000 junior doctors has revealed that 98 per cent are in favour of strike action against proposed government contract changes. In recent weeks, junior doctors have expressed outrage against the health secretary’s initiative to impose new contracts which he claims would create a seven-day NHS and extend the working hours in any week for which doctors receive basic rates of pay.
According to the contract, these working hours will be extended from 7pm to 10pm on weekdays. Dr. Aaminah Verity, specialising in tropical health and international medicine in London, said:
“Fundamentally, the NHS is being undermined as a service. This push through means doctors will leave. We are so undervalued and so unappreciated that when there is a new contract, as there are already staff shortages, the system will just collapse. The government is saying this is cost-neutral, so there’s no reason to do this other than to push forward an agenda of privatisation.”
Dr. Johann Malawana, chair of the British Medical Association’s junior doctors committee, expressed hope in an interview that David Cameron should intervene to alleviate the situation: “I would like him to intervene to try and encourage the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, to approach this in a more reasonable way and stop making this such a fractious, polarising, negative dialogue. If the Prime Minister can do this, then there’s hope.”
Disappointment was sparked, however, when a spokesperson for the Department of Health announced that the DoH’s position “is the government’s position.” The doctors are questioning whether the banding system, which dictates how much doctors are paid as well as keeping doctors from working extortionate hours, will still be kept intact.
After the results were announced, it has been reported that the first walk-out will start on the 1st of December, followed by two further strikes on the 8th and 16th of December. Consequently, non-urgent services in many hospitals will be cancelled and thousands of operations and routine appointments rescheduled.
The junior doctors will still staff emergency care, however hospitals are encouraged to start planning ahead for any complications that might occur. Dr. Mark Porter, chair of the BMA council, responded: “We regret the inevitable disruption that this will cause but it is the government’s adamant insistence on imposing a contract that is unsafe for patients in the future, and unfair for doctors now and in the future, that has brought us to this point.”
Before the ballot papers went out two weeks ago, Jeremy Hunt made his last attempt to accept the contract, writing up a new offer which included an 11 per cent pay rise in basic pay, but the BMA has still expressed disapproval of unsociable working hours and the lack of sufficient safeguards at hospitals.
Responding to the overwhelming vote by junior doctors to start strike action, Jeremy Hunt said: “We put forward a very fair offer for doctors, which will see pay go up for three-quarters of junior doctors. We wanted to talk about this to them, but in the end they have chosen to strike so we will have to put in contingency plans.”
Hunt would like junior doctors to become more flexible with regard to their working hours, in order to stay true to the pledge of a seven-day NHS made by the Conservatives during the election campaign.
Shadow Health Secretary, Heidi Alexander, stated that David Cameron must get the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) involved in order to avoid further strikes. She adds that the recent decision “has caused widespread concern, not just among junior doctors but also among medical royal colleges and patient groups.”