Doctors and other health workers struck together at Barts Health NHS Trust in east London (Picture: Guy Smallman)

Thousands of junior doctors joined hospital consultants on picket lines across England on Wednesday in the first joint strike of its kind.

Health bosses were forced to cancel planned operations and clinics as medics provided only a “Christmas Day” service. Both sets of doctors are fighting the Tories for a settlement that accounts for years of below-inflation pay rise. That would mean an increase of 35 percent.

They rightly insist that without decent pay, highly trained staff will continue to leave the NHS to work privately or abroad–and that this is doing irreversible damage.

The mood among doctors has hardened. It has become clear that the government has no interest in settling the disputes and refuses to talk to the BMA union.

On the picket line at the Royal London hospital, striking junior doctor Michael told Socialist Worker that the mood among his colleagues was “angry and determined”. “The fact that the government has refused to talk to us for 100 days tells you everything you need to know,” he said.

“I have no faith in any politicians anymore. The only people that I trust with the future of the NHS are the people that work in it and the people that use it. That’s all.”

Reflecting on the Tories’ intransigence, Michael said he and his colleagues were “furious”. “We have to hold the government to account for what they are doing to the NHS,” he said. “That means we will keep striking, right up to the general election – and beyond if necessary.”

Striking consultant Kirsteen has worked at the Royal London for 14 years. She says that many patients suffer because there are not enough staff and resources to care for them properly.

“We always struggle to get new equipment and create the new services we need,” the radiology doctor said. “Simply, there’s no money, no physical space, and no trained people.

“That can mean delayed procedures, late diagnosis and too late treatment. It means worse outcomes for our patients.”

Kirsteen says that being unable to give patients the care they need has a terrible effect on doctors’ wellbeing.

“It’s so frustrating,” she said. “Everyday your shoulders sit a little lower because you know everything could be so much better.”

Kirsteen and Micheal both said that being on strike made them feel more positive about the future, and hope that it will impact on “those in power”. That spirit was also among the cleaners, porters, domestics and technicians also striking at the Royal London on Wednesday.

The Unite union members are fighting over pay and safe staffing levels. But they are also raging at hospital trust bosses that have denied the government’s “Covid bonus” to many staff that transferred back to the NHS from outsourcer Serco.

Mary has spent five years as a domestic at the Royal London but isn’t getting the Covid bonus. That’s despite having worked on a dedicated Covid ward during the height of the pandemic.

There she was surrounded by daily suffering and death, but she says the bosses don’t care about that.

“They don’t have a clue about our work, what we do, and they don’t care about us,” she said. “All these people liked to clap us during Covid, but they won’t give us anything now to help us feed our families. I say, shame on you.”

During a loud march around the hospital, porter Charles said that even former Serco workers who got the bonus had joined the strike.

“We are all united, there’s no divide and rule here,” he told Socialist Worker. “Today, it feels like we are speaking with a united voice, and it’s good to be alongside the doctors on strike too.”

Junior doctor Michael echoed that feeling. He said that hospitals are normally very “hierarchical” but the strikes have made a difference.

“I make a point of speaking to everyone I work with on the wards nowadays,” he said. “I talk to the porters and cleaners about their dispute, and they ask me about mine. We are all supportive of one another, and that makes a real difference.”

That spirit of coming together gave everyone at the hospital a lift. And it points to the potential power of health workers when they combine. But it makes it even more tragic that the Unison and RCN unions settled for poor pay deals just as the new fights were starting.

Join the Workers’ Summit in London on Saturday to discuss how to link the fights, reject bad deals and fight to win. To book go to bit.ly/WS230923 To add your union branch to the supporting organisations, or for a model motion, contact linkthefights@gmail.com

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