NO DOCTOR WANTS TO GO ON STRIKE, but the government is threatening to impose a contract that the doctors believe will be unsafe for them and their patients, leaving them no choice but to take action to try to prevent that. On 12 January – for the first time in 40 years – junior doctors went on strike, with patient safety being guaranteed by the emergency cover provided by some of their number alongside consultants and other senior doctors.
This will be the case in any kind of strike action by doctors: we will always make sure emergency care is provided. If people are ill on the day of a strike, they should go to the hospital as they normally would, and they will get the care they need.
Until recently I was a junior doctor myself, and was part of the BMA contract negotiation team that tried for 18 months to reach an agreement with the government about a contract. That negotiation broke down in November 2014. After waiting for the General Election to be over, the government announced in the summer of 2015 that they were going to impose a contract on junior doctors across England. There was some attempted negotiation following this, but little progress. The strike action by junior doctors has been called, reluctantly, to try to prevent the imposition. Doctors believe that the imposed contract will be unsafe and unfair. We want to see a contract that has teeth when it comes to protecting patients from having overworked doctors looking after them. The safeguards proposed by the government are much weaker than the current contract, and will lead to hours of work creeping up again. Tired doctors make mistakes and we cannot accept a contract that risks doctors being overworked. The proposed contract will also cut the pay of people frequently working out of hours, which is likely to make the recruitment crisis in Emergency Medicine, for example, even worse.
The government repeatedly say they want to have a ‘seven day NHS’ without ever defining this, but emergency care is already available 24 hours a day. They have shown no sign of wanting to provide the money necessary for any new weekend elective services. The NHS is already strained almost to breaking, and expensive dreams without funding may be the final straw.
Doctors are grateful for the support the public has shown for us in this dispute, and we hope that we can achieve resolution soon.
Junior doctors have been out on strike and more days of action may follow. Why are they doing this? Tom Dolphin, NHS consultant in London, reports