The government has stated that they intend to impose their hated contract on Junior Doctors. Cam Stocks, a medical student, looks at the risks and choices ahead.
“7 day care” or not, the NHS will rapidly fail without a quick injection of funding and staff. How we respond at this juncture will shape the future of our profession, the NHS and the country as a whole, for generations to come. Escalate, and we can secure a better future for us and the NHS. But how?
Option 1: We resign en masse.
The “nuclear option” that many are pushing for. Either now, or by going “out of program” in August, we throw an all-or-nothing gambit at the government, in the hope that they back down.
What would mass resignation say to the public? It’s not surprising that many have interpreted talk of “leaving for Australia” as a veiled threat, suggesting that we are somehow superior. At every protest and rally, the chant of “Save Our NHS” has rung out from doctors – what does it say if we threaten to walk away now?
The NHS is nothing but it’s staff. Free from interference, the NHS would be best run by its workers. To threaten to remove ourselves from it, is to withdraw our claim and cede control to the establishment in a way that may not be recoverable.
If we win in this way, it does nothing to stop the government from selling off the public’s right to care, one service at a time. Piece by piece, the NHS will be sold to the lowest bidder, in a drive for “efficiency” that will never match the gross inadequacies in staffing and funding that cripple the NHS.
And what if the government call our bluff and accept the resignation of 50,000 doctors? It will be impossible for many to resign, and risky for those that do – understaffing in Australia has largely been fixed. It would surely suit the state nicely to wash its hands of centralised responsibility for trainees. With no contract to be held to, the government could give negotiating power to trusts – exactly where it wants it, so that they can be sold off one by one. Our new employers will be free to suppress wages and working conditions as they please – for proof, just look at our colleagues working in outsourced services. For further proof – listen to today’s Jeremy Vine show. The Institue for Economic Affairs, with close ties to the government, are advocating thsi approach.
If we resign en masse we might win, but it’ll be quick, dirty and leave a sour taste in the mouth. And if we lose, we lose big.
Option 2: We stay, fight and strike, until we win.
This is the only path that will win us a safe contract and build our strength to reclaim the NHS.
We immediately escalate the strike to a full walkout, then 2 days out, then 3. We walk out on weekends. Never leaving more than a week between actions. The law is on our side. Until 12th July, it will be illegal for trusts to hire in temporary cover staff or to fire us for striking. After that, we can reballot. NHS students are walking out to support us today, and it’s likely that consultants and staff on Agenda for Change will be forced to strike later in the year – each group that the government tries to persecute, brings more to the fight.
At the same time, we demand more. The right to choose our own leave. To work fully staffed wards, without the looming shadow of cuts and privatisation. To live in a society that doesn’t refuse migrants access to basic services. If the BMA won’t facilitate this, then take action into your own hands and strike locally. In 1975, juniors at many hospitals went on wildcat strike for weeks before the BMA stepped up to the plate and called a national ballot.
Every day that we strike piles pressure on the government. The public knows that we’re striking to secure their future. They’re behind us. We’ve shown them that we can be reasonable, so now let’s show them that we’ll fight for their rights and ours, for as long as it takes.
If the government dares to announce their imposition, let’s show them where power in the NHS really lies.
On Wednesday 10 February, Junior Doctors went on strike to save the NHS. For a round-up and pictures from picket lines around the country, click here.