The National Health Service is on top of news agendas across the country this week in the wake of the Junior Doctors strike -their first walkout since 1975, and it’s no different here in Somerset, where strikers and supporters alike took to picket lines to raise the issues in the public eye. Meanwhile in Bridgwater a public meeting on the NHS organised by the Labour Party heard some home truths from consumers and practitioners alike.
The Junior Doctors action was prompted by contract negotiations between Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and the British Medical Association (BMA). Hunt had offered a basic pay rise of 11% but the changes to working hours saw medics brand the contract proposal “not fair and not safe “. They say that even the rise in basic pay won’t make up for the overtime they will lose elsewhere, and it still amounts to a pay cut.
As a result the British Medical Association balloted its members on industrial action and the result smashed through even the toughest of strike thresholds being proposed by the Tories in their Trade Union Bill. Of the 37,155 medics balloted, 28,316 (76%) took part in the vote on full strike action. Just 564 of these doctors voted against a strike.
The BMA position
On the BMA website Dr Yannis Gourtsovannis, wrote “ We are opposing this government’s attempt to impose an unsafe new contract on the medical profession. It is our view that the proposed contract represents an existential danger to the NHS as an institution.You may be aware that the BMA had initially suspended its planned industrial action at the start of December and returned to talks with the Department of Health. That decision was made in good faith. However, over the last few weeks, in the course of negotiations with Government we have encountered only intransigence. It is clear that the government perceives our contract issue as pivotal for its attempt to “reform” the NHS towards a neoliberal, commercialised system.It is therefore evident to us that we have no choice but to transform our 98% ballot mandate into action. The developments of the next few months will have consequences stretching far into the future. This government is wilfully putting at risk our patients’ safety, the tolerability of our working lives as NHS workers and the very viability of the NHS as a publicly-funded, publicly-provided service.”
Public Meeting in Bridgwater features former Labour MP
At the Trinity Hall in Bridgwater, former Labour MP Stephen Ladyman of the Socialist Health Association spoke of the situation in Somerset and emphasised how the NHS was the biggest employer in every county and even with the anticipated workforce expected for Hinkley Point would remain so in Somerset. Dr Ladyman spoke of the changes in recent years to the operation of the NHS and laid the blame on the Conservative government of 2010 bringing private sector competition into the NHS and effectively privatising large chunks of it whilst emphasising that “The Lib Dems are not innocent – they let it happen and they voted for it”. He pointed to the massive financial gap between what the NHS gets and what it needs, which is some 20 billion pounds a gap the Tories said they would cover-but by making cuts to that tune!
He referred also to the training and recruitment gap, which he laid firmly on the shoulders of the Tories and the resulting rise in Agency workers to fill the places. “Training a nurse takes 4 years, training a doctor takes 7” he explained demonstrating that it will take more than one term of a Labour Government to turn the tide.
Unions best placed to take up the fight
At the same meeting FBU organiser Tam McFarlane spoke of his own experiences recently in NHS care and paid tribute to the staff who he described as “wonderful, caring, compassionate and highly trained”. Tam went on to say “I have every respect for people who take office as Councillors and MPs to serve the public but when you read about the number of them with interests in private care fund it’s no wonder scepticism creeps in”. With a rallying cry to the public he added “ The Labour Party founded the NHS and we need to defend it. It was created by a generation that had a vision but it’s being chiselled away and cherry picked at, yet it’s OUR NHS and worth fighting for,”
Bridgwater Labour Town Councillor Siobhan Wilson (Victoria) said “I wholeheartedly support the strike and it is criminal that junior doctors and student nurses are having to fight to save the NHS from being sold out from under them. We should all be supporting them as we all need and love the NHS.”
Future Actions need everyones support
The strike action by Junior Doctors (Emergency care only) lasted for 24 hrs from 8am Tuesday 12 January to 8am Wednesday 13 January and there are future actions planned;-
Emergency care only — 48 hrs from 8am Tuesday 26th January to 8am Thursday 28 January
Full withdrawal of labour — from 8am to 5pm Wednesday 10th February
•The aim is to picket all major hospitals in England on all three days of proposed action. Pickets will be in the vicinity of the main entrances and will start at 8am, continuing until at least 12.30pm. However, many picket sites will continue into the evening, especially at the larger hospitals.
•Along with the pickets there will be parallel “Meet the Doctors” events at nearby transport stops or public spaces.
Message from a striker
For a personal view of the strike by a Somerset Junior Doctor click here.