Junior doctors on the march last month (Picture: Guy Smallman)

“If the government continues to ignore these strikes and refuses to talk about pay, I think the NHS will collapse.” That’s the view of Dave Proctor, a consultant­anaesthetist at a hospital in Liverpool.

“Last winter was the most horrendous period in the NHS I can remember. “It was impossible for people to get GP appointments. There was very little urgent care available, even for people needing cancer treatment. 

“And people having heart attacks were waiting hours for an ambulance. Emergency care was overrun. “The Royal College of Emergency Medicine said there were between 300 and 500 excess deaths a week across Britain as a result of the crisis.”

Dave says that staff used all their last resources to get the health service and its patients through the worst of it, but that now there is ­nothing left in reserve. And now he fears that the crisis is about to hit all over again.

“I’ve just come out of A&E. We have an overflow corridor that we use when the ­department is full.  “And we now have an extra corridor to put patients in when the first corridor is full,” he said.

“This evening, both ­corridors were full, and there were queues out of the door. It’s August, not December when flu season is in full swing. “That tells you something is very wrong.”

A big part of what’s wrong, says Dave, is a lack of trained staff—and an acute shortage of senior doctors. “Loads of my colleagues are giving up and leaving the country,” he said. “The doctor that used to head my department left for Australia, and there are others now heading to the Caribbean and Canada.

“They can get paid a lot more there, and they don’t have to work in a system in such a terrible decline.” Dave pointed out the ­problem is now spreading fast to junior doctors. “Those that have just ­qualified come to us with over £100,000 in debt. And they say to us, ‘Where am I going to live as my career progresses? I’m never going to be able to afford a place.

“There’s a sense in which professions—such as doctors, nurses, teachers—that used to be respected just aren’t anymore. And that feeling combines with the terrible conditions that people must work under. “During Covid, it was bad. Everyone knows that. 

“But now, at work, we know we are not delivering the best care and having to make awful decisions, like should I cancel an operation or should I leave sixty sick people waiting in an ­outpatients’ corridor?

“To me, this feels like a breakdown in society. An A&E department is the safety net for the city–and now that is at breaking point.” Dave says he has little doubt that the strikes will be solid, but there is now a mood of grim resignation among his colleagues.

Radiology doctor Paul Bremer will be on junior picket lines this Friday and is urging his colleagues to “stay strong”.

“I’m telling them we must keep up the fight. If we were to drop the strikes now—even if in favour of another strategy—it would be seen as a defeat. “That would demoralise junior doctors, but also the public and other groups of workers that are fighting.

Paul says that regardless of its rhetoric, the Tories have already been forced into climbdowns. “First, they offered us 2 percent, and said that was their ‘final offer’. 

“Then they offered 5  ­percent, then they offered 6 percent, and then 6 percent with a lump sum. “So, we got to keep ­pushing until their final offer comes some way close to our demand for full pay restoration.”

To win, more ­solidarity is needed, says Paul. “The ­support we’ve had on the picket lines, especially from other health workers, has been fantastic. But we need backing from the wider labour movement now. “The message should be, ‘If you value your health service, get behind the doctors’.”

And, with so much at stake, Dave wants to know why the official Labour movement has yet to mobilise to support the doctors and radiographers that are fighting for decent pay. “If there were 500 excess deaths a week during last year’s crisis, it will be worse this coming winter. So why aren’t Labour and the unions calling mass protests in London and every other city?

The terrible answer is that Labour won’t fight for the doctors or for more money for the NHS because, fundamentally, it agrees with the Tories on health. Starmer and his shadow health secretary Wes Streeting refused to back any of the health workers’ strikes despite knowing that poor pay is behind the thousands of vacancies.

And both want to bring in the private sector to start running NHS care. The last thing Labour wants is a mass campaign in defence of the health service. And that’s exactly why activists in all unions should be pushing their leaders to deliver just that.”

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