Junior doctors and hospital consultants are planning to strike together for the first time in their history. The coordinated action is set to take place in September and October, their BMA union said on Thursday.
Consultants had already announced plans to walk out for 48 hours from 19 September. Now they will be joined by striking junior doctors for the second day of action.
Junior doctors will then continue their strike for a further 48 hours from 21 September. Both consultants and junior doctors will then strike together for three days from 2 October.
News of the unprecedented joint strikes came as the BMA announced the results of the junior doctors’ strike re-ballot. The Tories’ anti-union laws mandate these must happen every six months during a dispute.
That a massive 98.3 percent voted for more strikes will send Tory ministers reeling, and the whopping turnout of 71.3 percent will give them nowhere to hide.
Health secretary Steve Barclay will have been hoping to see cracks in the doctors’ determination. But this vote was almost identical to the original one in January. Then 98 percent voted yes on a 77 percent turnout.
But the number of votes cast this time around increased by several thousand as new starter junior doctors joined the union’s ranks for the first time—meaning a record number of junior doctors voted to strike.
Paul, a radiology doctor in the east of England, told Socialist Worker that the vote was “massive”.
“I had no doubt that we’d vote to continue the action,” he said. “But even I was surprised by how solid the support was. The announcement of joint strikes with the consultants is big news.
“It means on strike days hospitals will be shut down, except for emergency life and limb cover. There is very little that happens in a hospital that doesn’t involve doctors.”
The Tories’ refusal to talk to either group of doctors about pay can only mean the agonising NHS waiting lists, already millions-strong, will continue to grow. Every patient left in pain and danger is on Steve Barclay and Rishi Sunak.
“The demand for a proper pay settlement is now coming from every quarter,” says Paul. “We junior doctors are saying it, and the consultants are saying it.
“The government has failed to grasp the strength of feeling there is about pay and the future of the health service.”
And Paul says that Tory intransigence is bringing people together.
“The juniors and consultants are starting to realise they have something important in common. In the past it was quite usual for consultants to hear us complaining about pay and conditions and be dismissive.
“But now they are having to cover our work it’s different. They’ve suddenly found that a junior doctor’s job is not what they remembered—and that’s because everything about the job has gotten harder and the pay is worse.
“I think the joint picket lines will chip away at the hierarchy that exists in the profession.”
Paul says that public support for the strike remains “astounding”.
“I can’t tell you how important that is to us, to know that people support us, and that what we are fighting for is bigger than all of us.”
He’s right, the support for all NHS strikers is overwhelming, but to really turn the screw on the Tories it must be mobilised.
The BMA must not be left on its own to fight for the NHS, every trade union should be mobilising its members. The best way to start would be to organise a huge national march to back the doctors and the health service they are defending.
The TUC union grouping meets in Liverpool soon. Fighting for the NHS and real backing for the strikes need to be key items on its agenda.