Doctors on the University College London Hospital picket line, last month (Picture: Guy Smallman)

Fresh strikes by junior doctors could reignite the NHS pay battle the Tories thought they had put out. Thousands of medics across England are planning to walkout next month as part of their battle for “full pay restoration” after talks with the government broke down this week.

The Tories have offered a rise of just 5 percent, but junior doctors are ­demanding their pay be brought back to 2008 levels. That would mean a rise of at least 26 percent. Their BMA union says the government has come “nowhere near addressing pay erosion” and that this is “no time for the government to play games on pay.”

The union has called a three-day strike starting at 7am on Wednesday 14 June. And junior doctors’ leaders say they will call a minimum of three days of action every month while their strike mandate lasts—and in August reballot for further walkouts.

The news will pile ­pressure on Tory health secretary Steve Barclay. Such a programme of strikes will have a massive effect on the health service because junior doctors form the bulk of the medical workforce.

Health bosses will have to cancel tens of thousands of operations and appointments and add to the sense that the NHS is on the brink of collapse. The health service ­meltdown is already ­punishing the government. 

Millions of people are trapped on seemingly ­endless waiting lists, and many of them are in severe pain. Almost everyone knows a family member or friend that is suffering, and most blame the Tories for the crisis. 

Barclay had hoped that the issue of NHS pay had gone away after many health unions accepted a derisory pay offer in April. His greatest worry will likely be that the junior doctors’ action will inspire all those unions that did not accept his deal—and many of those angry with their unions for not fighting harder.

The nurses’ RCN union this week starts a strike ballot across England after union members rejected an offer of just 5 percent for this year, and a one-off bonus for their work during Covid. The doctors’ strike will remind nurses of their power on the picket lines. 

And, the move holds out the prospect that groups of NHS workers that have not settled their pay fights—including the Unite union and the Society of Radiographers, for example—could join action together.

Dr Dev took to social media to explain why he was on strike. “Our pay has gone down by 26 percent, but our workloads have gone up,” he said, pointing out that the government’s original pay offer was just 2 percent.

“That means a doctor that will lead the effort to restart your heart in the event of you having a cardiac arrest is paid £24 an hour. An entire group of doctors that will lead an emergency C-section will earn just £50. That’s for a procedure that will potentially save the life of a child.”

Junior doctors are right to be furious. Health activists in all unions must get behind them, and use the enthusiasm they generate to help win the nurses’ strike ballot.

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