On 19 January, the British Medical Association (BMA), acting for junior doctors, suspended a strike planned for 26 January, as the government reopened negotiations on the new contracts. The first strike by junior doctors on 12 January was supported by other trade unionists and the general public.
Polls on the strike day showed 66% of the public in support of strikes. Doctors’ picket lines were joined by NHS campaigners and trade unionists from other health unions and other industries, in a huge show of defiance of the threat from NHS employers to take legal action over secondary picketting. As Solidarity goes to press it is unclear what is expected from negotiations. However the appointment of Sir David Dalton as head negotiator may signal a move towards a deal. As Chief Executive of Salford Royal NHS Trust, he has been a public critic of Jeremy Hunt′s seven-day NHS.
The timescale for the imposition of the new junior doctors′ contract is tight. There must be pressure for a deal to be done so that a new intake of doctors can begin. The government will be very aware that an imposition of the contract will be expensive and difficult for them. There is scope for non-strike action to resist the imposition of the contract within hospitals. It is good that the BMA has only suspended the strike for 26 January and the strike set for 10 February which is planned to be a full withdrawal of labour (no emergency cover). Negotiating with the threat of strikes strengthens the hand of unions. The government will also have in mind what happened last time strikes were suspended. Junior doctors’ resolve did not dissipate and a strike did happen. Junior doctors must build on the momentum of the first strike to get organised in hospitals. On 12 January many doctors staged impressive picket lines, with well organised public leafletting and engagement activities. Most of these activities were co-ordinated locally, meaning doctors are building networks that will be necessary to organise a fight to save the NHS. A lively public campaign from junior doctors, linking up with other healthworkers and NHS campaigners, to demonstrate support for the BMA in negotiations and to build for any future strikes, will bring together a campaign to save the NHS.