The Tories are desperate to turn anger at the NHS crisis away from their cuts and towards striking health workers.
Consultants and junior doctors struck this week for 72 hours until 7am on Thursday. Radiographers joined them on the picket lines for 24 hours on Tuesday.
The British Medical Association promised “Christmas Day” cover, meaning emergency care was staffed, with only minimal cover elsewhere.
The strikes have had a massive impact on healthcare across England, with planned surgery and clinics cancelled. This has made a mockery of Rishi Sunak’s “promise” to get waiting lists down.
Health secretary Steve Barclay responded by upping his rhetoric, rather than accepting responsibility for the crisis. He slandered striking consultants, saying they were “deliberately” sabotaging urgent care.
“When people hear that chemotherapy or dialysis or other time-critical treatment is being withheld by people earning about £130,000 a year and with the ability to earn significant sums in the private sector, they find that surprising,” he said.
What hypocrisy. The Tories are the party that lauds Britain’s highest earners—the ultra-rich that think £130,000 is mere pocket money. Rishi Sunak last year spent three times a consultant’s salary on a new swimming pool in one of his houses.
Governments led by the Tories have presided over more than a decade of rising waiting times. That now means a quarter of all British adults are in the queue for treatment, according to a new survey.
A shocking 31 percent of voters said a close friend or family member has endured a six month-plus wait for vital care. One in four have also had to wait for six hours or more in A&E.
These figures started their sharp rise well before the pandemic hit in 2020, let alone the health strikes that started almost a year ago. Research by the independent Nuffield Trust last month concludes, “It’s clear that there would have been more operations and appointments had the strikes not taken place.
“But it is unlikely that the lost activity would have been enough to enable waiting lists to come down. And it is certainly not the case that the strikes alone are to blame for continued long waits.
“The number of planned operations hadn’t yet recovered even to pre-pandemic levels before the strikes began.”
It’s now more than 100 days since the blustering health secretary last sat down with the doctors’ union leaders for pay talks.
None are planned for the future. Instead, ministers say the issue closed after they imposed a 6 percent rise on consultants, and an average 8.8 percent on junior doctors. Neither award comes close to the union’s demand for “full pay restoration”.
But without a proper settlement, a lack of highly skilled and experienced staff will ultimately destroy the NHS.
But Labour, instead of turning the NHS crisis into a battering ram against the Tories, has instead chosen to echo their policies.
The party repeats Barclay’s lie that doctors’ demands are “unaffordable”. Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting wants a new wave of privatisation and “reform” to rip through the service.
The alternative to the Tories’ contempt, and Labour’s indifference, is to get behind all health workers fighting back. And encourage others to join them on the picket lines.
Local NHS strikes gain momentum
Health secretary Steve Barclay’s bloody-minded intervention will doubtless stiffen the resolve of health workers fighting back.
This week workers at the giant Barts trust in east London again walked out and held a major strike rally on Wednesday, after Socialist Worker went to press.
Porters, cleaners, receptionists and technicians in the Unite union, and junior doctors, consultants and radiographers stood together on loud and lively picket lines.
Unite is fighting over pay and safe staffing, and against local management that have withheld the government’s “Covid bonus” from workers recently brought back in-house.
The strikers are confident they can win, in part because they have already humiliated giant outsourcing multinational Serco.
A major strike last year forced Barts management not to renew the outsourcing contract and instead bring services back into the NHS. Now Unite members want to finish the job—and win the bonus for all workers.
Meanwhile the strike wave among nursing and health care assistants (HCAs) in the north west of England is growing. Hundreds of HCAs at the Warrington and Halton trust mounted their first strike last week. They walked out for 48 hours and held a big rally.
They were joined on strike by Clinical Support Workers who perform similar roles at Wirral University Teaching Hospital on Merseyside.
Workers there added a further round of 48-hour strikes last weekend and returned to work on Monday morning.
Both groups of Unison union members are furious that they have been classed as pay band two, despite being used to perform band three tasks.
Most NHS employers now accept they must be re-graded but some are refusing proper back pay. That means some of the poorest workers in the NHS stand to lose thousands of pounds.
The willingness of all grades of health workers to fight, both for themselves and for the NHS, shows the potential for a joint fight