Junior doctors will be striking on Wednesday 10 February after talks between the British Medical Association (BMA), the government and NHS employers at ACAS broke down on Monday 1 February.
The government has made it very clear that it is looking for a show-down with the BMA, and it seems very little progress was made in negotiations. The BMA says that the consideration of Saturday as a normal working-day is a sticking point. Given that talks have broken down it is likely that the government will now stop negotiations about the contract and start trying to impose the contract without an agreement from the BMA.
The breakdown in talks marks a serious move by both the BMA and the government. BMA action should now reflect the fact that it faces all-out war from the government. Originally the 10 February strike was planned as a full withdrawal of labour (whereas the previous strikes were to have been emergency care only) as the culmination of an escalating period of strikes. The 10 February strike has now been made into another emergency care only strike, perhaps reflecting the loss of momentum during talks and since the last strike. The 10 February strike must now be seen as the start of an escalation of action, not the culmination it was meant to be.
The fight is now on for junior doctors. This is the start of four months of struggle leading up to August, when the new intake of junior doctors could be given the new contract to sign. Junior doctors have come a long way in organisation and preparedness to strike since the start of this dispute, but a lot will still need to be convinced of the necessity of taking more drastic action and given confidence that we can win. If the government starts trying to impose the new contract without agreement from the BMA it will not find it easy. Imposing a contract without agreement means that the BMA will be able to challenge large parts of it legally, especially under equalities laws.
The new contract is a ″one size fits all″ contract which is not fit for purpose for most doctors. Many NHS trust managements will be telling the government that they can′t, and don′t want to, impose it. Since the start of the junior contract dispute the BMA has seen a huge blossoming in its hospital level organisation. There are more and more reps in hospitals. But the level of organisation is patchy
across the country.
We should use this opportunity to build up this organisation. We should aim to have a rep in every hospital. Many BMA activists have taken it upon themselves to organise creative activity across the country. Junior doctors in London angry at Jeremy Hunt′s dangerous and incorrect comments on death-rates at weekends delivered a giant copy of the medical statistics book ″How to read a paper: the basics of evidence-based medicine″ to his parliamentary office. Other activities have been organised by junior doctors elsewhere.
This momentum has slowed slightly since strikes were suspended, but it must be increased now to increase the pressure on the government who must already be aware of the level of public support for the junior doctors′ dispute. BMA activists could also usefully do a lot of activity mobilising medical students against the contract, organising protests and petitions of medical students to say they are against the contract.
Junior doctors’ protests on Saturday 6 February in London and Bristol will be the start of this activity, and the trade union movement should turn out again in defiance of secondary picketing laws on picket lines on 10 February.
Student nurses to walk out over bursary cuts
Danielle Tiplady, a student nurse involved in the campaign against scrapping student NHS bursaries, spoke to Solidarity.
I fully support the idea of the walk out suggested by the NHS bursary committee. On the 10 February I hope to see many students out on the picket lines defending their bursaries and showing support to junior doctors.
No matter how many students take part in the walk out, whether this be for ten minutes or an hour, it will be a success and monumental as NHS students have not taken this action before. Overall for the week of action 13 universities have signed up so far, and I think the week will be a great success and lots of fun. Qualified healthcare professionals have all been very supportive to us. We have had very minimal negative response which is wonderful.
I think people are starting to realise the wider picture and that the bursary cuts are just another push into privatising our NHS. We have a shortage of 10,000 nurses in London and by cutting the bursary this is only going to get worse. Who would pay more money to study in London and pay it back from a capped salary in the most expensive city in the UK? It is a ludicrous idea and we are heading for a big disaster. The solidarity between healthcare workers is now clear. We have united. We all work for the NHS because we want to care for others and we must continue in our stand against privatisation.
• Activists are planning a whole week of activity between 8-14 February. Including: Monument Monday — hanging banners on monuments and statues; tweet Tuesday — #HuntMustGo; walk-out Wednesday — where student nurses have planned a walk-out from placements; and throwback Thursday — learning from NHS struggles of the past.
• Join in here and @NHSbursarycuts #BursaryOrBust on twitter.