Consultants on the picket line at UCH hospital in central London (Picture: Guy Smallman)

Thousands of consultant doctors across England took to picket lines on Thursday as part of the fight for better NHS pay.

The most senior medical staff are striking for 48 hours after the government refused their demand for pay restoration. 

Their BMA union wants the government to commit to regular pay rises, starting with one at least equal to inflation this year. But the Tories are instead set to impose their “final offer” of just 6 percent.

Doctor Shanu Datta spoke to Socialist Worker from his picket line at the Manchester Royal Infirmary. He said that many doctors found the decision to strike very difficult because of the impact on patient care, but that “pay has fallen way behind inflation”.

“That has happened to everybody, but we know that our pay has fallen even more than most people’s,” he said. “Whereas average pay has risen by 48 percent since 2008-09, the pay of consultants rose during the same period by just 14 percent.

“We are now facing a crisis because senior doctors are no longer willing to stay and continue to work for the NHS. It’s a crisis in which younger doctors want to go and work elsewhere instead.” 

The consultants’ strike highlights that the NHS pay fight is still far from over. Their action comes just days after junior doctors completed their own five-day strike. And the combined impact of their disputes is huge. 

Thousands of appointments have been cancelled and operations postponed—and junior doctors are working without the level of clinical supervision they need.

The right wing press pretends it’s angry at the way this leaves people in pain. But it has nothing to say when operations are every day being cancelled because of lack of staff.

Nick Hulme, chief executive of the Ipswich and Colchester hospitals, said 50 percent of doctors there are on strike. He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme about the impact on planned surgery. He explained that if, for example, an anaesthetic consultant went on strike you then had to cancel a whole list of patients.

“You are then left potentially with a whole team who are then effectively redundant for the whole day,” he said. That means the Tory promise to cut NHS waiting lists has been reduced to nothing but hot air.

Hospital consultants are extremely specialised and highly-paid staff—with most earning more than £100,000 a year. To qualify as one you will need decades of experience as a junior doctor and registrar, and a huge amount of additional learning.

Health secretary Steve Barclay, who grabs a similar salary, wants to break the consultants’ strike so that he can hold down pay across the whole of the NHS. 

He knows that if the doctors win, all other NHS workers will draw the conclusion that their unions gave up strikes too early and for too poor a deal. The Tories awarded most health workers a paltry 5 percent rise this year.

But they could have won far more by sticking together with the doctors and mounting a united fight for more. That’s why everyone should now get behind all NHS strikes and join the doctors on their picket lines.

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