Junior doctors are to strike on 5-7 October, 10-11 October, 14-18 November, and 5-9 December to stop the government imposing its new contract. The contract, says junior doctors’ committee chair Ellen McCourt, “discriminates against carers, parents, doctors with disabilities and women”; it “devalues our time” and undercuts the specialties with most difficulties. It is linked to the government’s drive for a so-called “seven-day NHS”, i.e. with routine as well as emergency activities at weekends.
Yet on 22 August the Guardian and Channel 4 News revealed leaked Department of Health documents in which the government’s own planners reckon that the health service has “too few staff and too little money” to deliver that plan. The government has already tried to impose a new contract. Earlier industrial action by junior doctors led to some improvements, but on 5 July a ballot of junior doctors rejected those improvements as inadequate by 58%-42%, despite their organisation, the British Medical Association, earlier endorsing the revised contract. After delay and discussion, the BMA called a first new strike for 12-16 September. On 5 September the BMA suspended that strike, explaining that NHS England (the umbrella administrative, though not employing, authority for the NHS) had said that the schedule gave not enough time to organise emergency cover during the strike. The October, November, and December strikes are still on track.
Rapid and strong action is necessary because some junior doctors under the new contract starts in October 2016, and the rest are scheduled to follow bit by bit up to October 2017. The BMA and local NHS campaigns should organise protests and demonstrations to replace the September strike dates. Labour movement activists mobilised around the Labour are leadership election and Labour Party conference The fight to save the NHS passes not only through getting better Labour Party leaders and policy, but also through the courageous action on the ground of the junior doctors.
After the announcement of the strikes junior doctors faced a concerted smear campaign by the press and the government, which knocked the confidence of some. Momentum groups and Labour Party organisations should give support by sending messages and delegations to the junior doctors at their local hospitals, and by bringing numbers to any demonstrations the junior doctors organise. Those messages, delegations, and demonstrations do not have to be delayed until October. They should start straight away.