Doctors walk out in the NHS’s biggest strike to date

Picket line at Bristol Royal Infirmary hospital with people holding placards demanding 'pay restoration' for junior doctors
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Hospital doctors in England staged the biggest walkout in the history of the NHS on Thursday 13 July. The strike action over pay and staff retention involves an unprecedented five-day stoppage.

Moreover, this is the latest in eight months of industrial action across the NHS, which has been reeling from over a decade of Tory cuts.

Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn tweeted his support:

‘Very reasonable’ demands

On a picket line outside London’s University College Hospital, junior doctor Arjan Singh said:

The NHS has been running on goodwill and now this is the last chance to change that.

Speaking to BBC Breakfast, Singh described the demand of £20 per hour for junior doctors’ pay as “very reasonable”:

Trade Unions Congress worker Shelly Asquith reported that doctors are saying “more than half their pay goes on rent and they’re burnt out”:

Nurses, ambulance staff and other medical workers have all joined picket lines in recent months.

The industrial action by junior doctors – those below consultant level – will run until 7:00am on Tuesday 18 July.

It comes against a background of walk-outs across the economy from train drivers to lawyers over the past year, as people in the UK battle the cost-of-living crisis.

Impact on patients

Mainstream media and the government have been raising concerns about the strikes posing a threat to patient safety. However, speaking to BBC Breakfast, the British Medical Association’s (BMA) Junior Doctors Committee chair, Vivek Trivedi, said that patients:

like us.. want a credible workforce to be able to look after them. They don’t want to have to wait up to two years, and in some cases even more, for things like clinics and surgeries, and they’re furious at the government for allowing this situation to develop.

Indeed, a patient interviewed by the BBC on Thursday, who had come to hospital for a procedure, said:

I wouldn’t blame the people on strike because they’re not striking recklessly. They’re doing it as I think a very much last resort.

Moreover, Trivedi and BMA co-chair Robert Laurenson said in a statement:

The complete inflexibility we see from the UK government today is baffling, frustrating, and ultimately destructive for everyone who wants waiting lists to go down and NHS staffing numbers to go up.

Around a record seven million people were waiting for treatment in April, with nearly three million waiting more than 18 months, according to the BMA.

Pay restoration

Junior doctors have been campaigning for the government to restore their pay to 2008-9 levels in real terms.

As GP Steve Taylor explained on Twitter:

One handmade sign at the picket line at Bristol Royal Infirmary read “It’s not a payrise, it’s pay restoration”. Meanwhile, placards at picket lines at other hospitals also called for “pay restoration” for doctors.

The BMA’s Junior Doctors Committee says medics have effectively had a 26% pay cut in real terms in the last 15 years, as salaries have failed to keep pace with soaring inflation.

The government claims that backdating their pay to reflect inflation since 2008 is too costly, and has instead offered an extra 5%.

Laurenson and Trivedi said:

Today marks the start of the longest single walkout by doctors in the NHS’s history, but this is still not a record that needs to go into the history books

We can call this strike off today if the UK government will simply follow the example of the government in Scotland and drop their nonsensical precondition of not talking whilst strikes are announced and produce an offer which is credible to the doctors they are speaking with.

Similar stoppages in June and April resulted in massive disruption, with hundreds of thousands of hospital appointments and operations rescheduled.

Strike Map has posted a thread for people wishing to support doctors at hospital picket lines:

Senior hospital doctors in England will also begin a 48-hour strike on 20 July. Radiographers will be following suit from 25 July.

Featured image via Twitter/ East of England BMA

Additional reporting via Agence France-Presse

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