Junior doctors last struck in 2016

Tens of thousands of junior doctors in England are set to join the NHS pay fight after their BMA union voted massively for strikes. Some 98 percent of members voted for walkouts on a turnout of 77 percent.

The union balloted around 47,000 doctors after 7,000 new members joined during the last month so they could vote too. Hospital doctors—including those in emergency departments—now plan a three-day walkout in March.

Senior House Officer John Plashet told Socialist Worker the vote reflects “massive anger” among his colleagues at pay—and the collapse of the NHS. The orthopaedic doctor, based in the south west of England, described conditions in some hospitals as “hellish”.

“I worked alternating 24-hour shifts for three months from September. That pressure is immense because during the night you can be making life and death decisions while you are totally exhausted.

“There are some wards I’ve worked on where, during out of hours, there is just one doctor looking after 75 patients. Some of them are very unwell, and need the specialist care of a geriatric team.

“But instead they are lumped in with everyone else that needs a bed.” And the devastating cuts to the NHS are making matters worse, he says.

“Recently I worked in an east London hospital that ran out of oxygen for patients. It was a really desperate situation.

“It meant we had to make a judgment call on which of our patients would likely survive an ambulance transfer to another hospital miles away. And, at that same hospital, a pressurised gas cylinder exploded outside the building, very close to the A&E department.

“There were bricks and masonry all over the corridors. It was like a bomb had gone off. It’s a miracle that no patients were hurt or even killed. So it’s not just about what is happening to the NHS staff. The system is literally falling apart around our ears.”

While junior doctors are rightly keen to talk about their fight being about saving the service, John says that pay really does matter. The starting salary for a doctor is so low they earn just over £14 an hour outside of London.

“That’s why, despite the devastating hours, lots of us work extra locum shifts,” he said. “It sounds wild doesn’t it? We are already exhausted, at the end of our tether, burnt out.

And, many doctors do extra shifts to pay the bills. It can’t be safe. And that’s why pay is part of the fight to save the NHS.”

Nurses set to step up action

Tens of thousands of nurses in England are set to escalate their pay dispute with their first 48-hour strike. The planned RCN union walkout would run continuously from 6am on Wednesday 1 March until the morning of Friday 3 March.

It would involve nurses at every trust where the union has won a strike mandate. And in this round no services will be exempt, meaning the strike will involve workers in emergency departments, intensive care and cancer care for the first time.

Nightshift nurses are now also set to join the action too. The RCN said it will reduce services to an “absolute minimum” and ask hospital bosses to rely on members of other unions and other clinical professions instead.

It’s a huge step up in the union’s pay fight that has so far seen Tory ministers refusing to even discuss the issue. “We need to escalate to make our voices heard,” Brenda, a long-standing nurse on the south coast of England, told Socialist Worker.

She says that the mood where she works is for more and stronger action. “Nurses here felt that the union’s derogations, which exempt some staff and departments from strikes, were stopping the strike from being effective.

“People were coming to the picket line and saying, ‘How come there are more nurses on my ward on a strike day than there are on a normal day?’” Every trade unionist must ensure that nurses feel the warmth of solidarity during their 48-hour strike.

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