9 March 2016
Today marks the first day of three 48 hour strikes that our junior doctors will be undertaking over the next 7 weeks, following Jeremy Hunt’s imposition of a new and lesser contract which will see our doctors working longer hours, with fewer safeguards and all for less pay.
Under Hunt’s new contract, the definition of out of hours working, or unsocial hours, will be changed, meaning that work on a Saturday evening will be considered and counted the same as work on a weekday morning. Safeguards currently in place to prevent doctors working dangerously long hours will be removed and staff morale, already in significant decline, will deteriorate further.
It shouldn’t be necessary to point out that our junior doctors are indispensable and work incredibly hard seven days a week, and yet, against the backdrop of toxic government rhetoric and scare-mongering based on inconclusive studies on weekend mortality rates, it has become so. Doctors undertake many years of study and training, landing themselves with student debts in excess of £70,000. They work long, unsociable and undoubtedly stressful hours and the bulk of their remuneration comes from out of hours pay.
While Hunt and his Tory colleagues remind us that, under the new contract, doctor’s base rate pay will increase by 11%, the reality is that the majority of junior doctors- while still performing the exact same job- will suffer a real terms pay cut. More work for less pay; an offer served up by a government of MPs, who last year saw their pay increase by 10% and by next month will receive a further 1% rise.
Unbelievably, across some social media accounts and other media outlets, junior doctors have been portrayed as greedy and unreasonable, as some NHS patients are of course inconvenienced by the strikes. But such anger and frustration would be much better directed at a government which is more than willing to compromise the safety of both patients and some of our most valued workers in society, in order to pursue an entirely ideological austerity agenda.
So what is the context to the imposition of this contract? Our National Health Service has suffered huge cuts- or “efficiency savings”- since 2010 and the Tory government promised in 2015 that savings totalling £22billion will be sought by 2020. Crippling Private Finance Initiative debts now cost the NHS up to £2billion per year and NHS Trusts across the country maintain enormous deficits. The NHS is in a financial crisis, yet it is also victim to an ongoing process of fragmentation and privatisation. Market forces have been imposed upon the NHS over the past three decades and the administration costs of this alone have been destructive. Tory plans to spread existing NHS services and the work of junior doctors more thinly is part of a concerted effort to divide public support for NHS staff, reduce NHS satisfaction levels and provide basis for their determined drive to privatise our beloved National Health Service.
So, why should we go out and publicly support our junior doctors today? Firstly, there is the obvious but important question of patient safety. Most of us rely on the NHS throughout our lives, whether expectedly or unexpectedly, and exhausted, overworked and demoralised doctors are not able to provide the service on which lives quite simply depend. Furthermore, the expected exodus of junior doctors from the NHS, should this imposition of contract continue, would be catastrophic for patient safety and the health service as a whole.
But beyond the question of safety and even the NHS, there is the principle of solidarity and the reasons why this is so important in this neoliberal age. Without collective, unionised action and support for our fellow workers and ordinary citizens, we all face a race to the bottom, be that in regards to wages, employment, healthcare, rights or housing. Instead of divided by deliberately pernicious Tory rhetoric, as a society and as activists we are much stronger when we are united against a common threat to our collective prosperity; we should race to pull each other up, not scramble to pull each other down.
London Young Greens will take to the picket lines today, tomorrow and throughout strike dates in April, in support of our junior doctors facing the same threats to their welfare, their rights and their NHS, as we each face to ours. We urge you to join us.
London Young Greens will be hosting an event on the junior doctor strikes and organised labour on Thursday 21st April, 7.30pm at Development House, 56-64 Leonard St, London EC2A 4LT.
To find out more about Caroline Lucas’ NHS Reinstatement Bill click here
This blog was originally posted on London Young Greens website
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Clare's image from Riveronline.co.uk
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