Junior doctors: a fight for the NHS

Submitted by Matthew on 13 April, 2016 - 8:56

Solidarity spoke to BMA activists about the junior doctors dispute.

Emma Runswick is a medical student at Manchester University. She is running in the elections for the BMA’s Council (national executive).

I think the dispute is going well. The mood among junior doctors is getting angrier. We are angry about the imposition of the contract, and about the government saying it finds the Equality Impact Assessment’s conclusions about the negative impact on women acceptable.

When you interviewed me in February, if you’d asked if there was support for “all out” action, with no junior doctors on emergency cover, I’d have said no. Now we’re about to do that for the first time and there is the support. There is wide discussion about how to escalate further. People’s ideas are still radicalising. It’s interesting seeing more people start to clock that the law doesn’t exist primarily to serve even people like doctors, it exists to serve the ruling class.

The BMA is also changing. Soon we’ll find out who’s been elected to BMA council; my guess is you’ll see a very distinct shift to the left. Moves to create a left network in the BMA are progressing. The BMA is holding a “Crisis in the NHS” event on 3 May, and we’ll be holding a fringe meeting there for the network. There is also more discussion about drawing the wider labour movement into supporting us, particularly through the BMA pushing for the TUC to organise a national demo, as Momentum NHS has called for Labour to do.

In Manchester we had a good march on the first day of the last round of strikes (6-7 April), and we’re also seeing more community action and events. A good example is “Little Lifesavers”, where mainly women doctors with children contact nurseries, parent and toddler groups and so on to hold teach-ins on basic life support whilst also talking about why we’re striking. The next strike (26-28 April), our first where emergency cover is entirely in the hands of consultants, will be harder and there’ll be more pressure for people not to strike. Public support is going to be more important than ever. People should do everything they can to support us, including letting us know when they’re next in hospital or at the GP. Above all we need people on picket lines, on both days of the strike.

Ruhe Chowdhury is a junior doctor in London.

The dispute is going well, but at the same time it’s disappointing to be where we are. We didn’t think we’d have to withdraw all junior doctor activity in hospitals. The government says we can stop this at any time, but it’s the other way round; they can stop this by withdrawing a contract which everyone except them thinks is terrible. We have very widespread support, from a growing number of professional and medical bodies, as well as the general public.

I think the government calculates that if they manage to impose the contract, the NHS will decline slowly over a number of years, and that junior doctors will knuckle under to help them manage the decline. But the timescale is much shorter. Many junior doctors will leave and the system will go into dramatic crisis, in months not years. Things are already very bad, but they will get much worse fast.

But, from a grassroots point of view, the action is going well. When we began our strikes we were told our public support would collapse. It didn’t. Then we were told that it would collapse if we took all out action. Our support has gone down but is still strong. This is a learning experience —people need to see what it’s like to have a big strike in the NHS, which they haven’t for a very long time.

It’s hard to tell what’s happening in the government. However, Jeremy Hunt’s statements have become much more aggressive; he is saying there can be no more negotiations, and he’s also started cancelling all kinds of engagements. That suggests his back is against the wall. The 26-28 April strike will hopefully show that junior doctors are still united and increase the pressure further.

After the BMA will be meeting to decide the way forward. We want members of the public to write to the chief executive of their local hospital, and urge them not to impose the contract — particularly because foundation trusts will have some leeway for this. We want people to write to their MPs. We want people to join our picket lines, wear badges, put up posters, attend community events. This is not just about our contract. It’s also about nursing bursaries and the wider fight to save the NHS. We’re doing this because we know the NHS is being dismantled, and we want to fight to stop that.

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