Picketing senior doctors are preparing for a winter of defiance and have announced that their longest ever strike will come in October.
The BMA union on Thursday reiterated plans to strike on 19 and 20 September—and announced a new three-day strike, beginning on 2 October. The move is part of a long running campaign to win pay restoration, with consultants having lost 35 percent of their salaries during the years of Tory rule.
The news came as consultants walked out for their latest 48-hour strike and routine hospital care in England ground to a halt.
Amid the constant din of supportive car horns at east London’s Newham General Hospital, Claire told Socialist Worker that pay was part of a wider fight for the NHS.
The emergency consultant said, “It’s no accident that so many health workers are coming together for action at the same time. The NHS is under enormous strain and has been for too many years.
“The pressure in emergency care is relentless—and there are no solutions coming from the government. Pay erosion is part of the problem because our salaries have fallen faster than any comparable professional.
“We need to deal with that if we want to retain skilled staff and train the next generation.”
Claire says that morale among consultants is so low because many are struggling to deliver the best for their patients. “It’s because of the conditions we are working under,” she said. “We’re not being able to provide care at the right standard. Every day you do your best, but it’s so disheartening to know that things could be so much better if the NHS wasn’t so stretched.”
Newham is one of the poorest boroughs in Britain, with a large migrant population that often struggles with long term ill health.
Another strike activist said Newham hospital doctors had decided on a local picket line, rather than joining a big one in central London. That’s because they “wanted the chance to connect with their patients.”
“And that’s really worked today,” he said. “I’d say that between 80 and 90 percent of people going into the hospital have taken our stickers.
“Some stop for a chat and tell us how much they value the NHS and their doctors. There is also quite a bit of anger at the government and the way they treat the unions.”
Talk of massive public support echoed across England. Socialist Worker received reports of lively picket lines at UCH and Kings in London, Stoke University Hospital, Leighton Hospital in Crewe, the Royal Derby and Oxford’s John Radcliffe.
At Nottingham’s Queen Mary hospital, Richard reports that consultants were the “first group of health workers in many years” to picket at the main road, rather than the back entrance. “They get far more attention here and supporting hoots from motorists,” he said.
The public response to doctors’ strikes shows the anger there is at the Tories for running down the NHS. And it shows that people understand why it’s important for health workers to hit back hard.
The government has refused to meet consultants since June, when they won their strike ballot. Instead, it has only repeated its “final offer” of a pay rise of just 6 percent. And there have been no serious negotiations with the junior doctors for months.
It seems that Tory health secretary Steve Barclay can only communicate through insults. The deal he offers comes nowhere near what is needed to address the crisis that emergency medicine consultant Claire laid out.
Meanwhile, the treatment backlog and waiting lists of people in pain and fear grow longer by the day—and the NHS grows weaker.
This should be a time for all trade unions to rally round the health service, and everyone that works for it. The TUC union federation should organise for a massive London demonstration, with coaches booked from every part of Britain.
Yet, there are little more than warm words from the union leaders. That’s because they have collectively decided that a Labour election victory is more important than workers on strike—and they don’t want to rock the boat.
The union leaders know that Labour does not support health workers’ strikes, and that a government it leads won’t plough in the funds necessary to save the NHS.
But the health service is too important to be left in the hands of either Tory or Labour health privateers. That’s why everyone should get behind the strikes by consultants and junior doctors and make them central to defending our NHS.