Striking junior doctors on the march around the Royal London Hospital in east London (Picture: Guy Smallman)

Junior doctors are set to return to picket lines in England this month for the longest ever national strike in the history of the NHS.  

The move comes after the Tory government first refused to talk to the union, then agreed to talks but made no significant improvement to its original offer. During that time consultant doctors forced the government into a pay retreat—though there are good reasons to reject even that deal and fight for more.  

The BMA union says junior doctors’ strikes will take place from 7am on 20 December to 7am on 23 December. They then plan to walk out again for six days, from 7am on 3 January until 7am on 9 January. 

That will have a huge impact on planned treatment, outpatient clinics and the standard of care on hospital wards. The union will organise strike cover at “Christmas Day” levels.  

The strike is bound to add to the more than seven million-strong waiting list for treatment. This will heap pressure on the Tories in the run up to a coming election. 

The BMA is right to call more, hard-hitting action. They’re fighting over pay—and to defend the NHS. But its significance is even wider than that. 

It shows that workers don’t have to accept bad deals from the Tories and that it’s possible to fight on with escalating action. 

Starting junior doctors earn an hourly rate of just £14.09 an hour, and often carry over £100,000 in student debt after their years of training. The London Living Wage, which acts as a minimum threshold, is already £13.15. 

Low pay is driving doctors out of the NHS and leading to a massive shortage of qualified staff. With the future of the NHS at stake, health unions must force the government to act. 

That’s why the BMA is demanding full pay restoration after more than a decade of cuts slashed salaries by around a third.  

But the government has responded by imposing an average rise of just 8.8 percent. It has since increased its offer by 3 percent, spread unevenly across different grades.  

That would mean many doctors would still get a real-terms pay cut this year – and would do nothing to put right the years of pay erosion.  

Dr Robert Laurenson and Dr Vivek Trevedi from the BMA’s Junior Doctors’ Committee are angry. “It is clear the government is still not prepared to address the real terms pay cut doctors have experienced since 2008,” they said in a statement. 

They added, “Without enough progress by the deadline, we have no choice but to take action that demonstrates doctors are as determined as ever in reversing their pay cuts. 

“A year after our dispute started, we are still too far from turning the tide on plummeting pay, morale, and retention of doctors.” 

And fury at new Tory health secretary Vicky Atkins is now threatening to unravel the deal she thought she had made with consultants, and which is set to be voted on. 

Dr Clive Peedell took to Twitter/X, writing, “I was prepared to accept the new consultant pay deal, even though as a year 19 consultant, I’m one of those who benefits the least. However, unless the government offers junior doctors a better deal, I’ll vote against.” 

He was backed by Dr Ajay M Verma, who wrote, “Difficult to contemplate an offer from the government when our junior doctor colleagues are still at loggerheads with the government. I fully support colleagues @BMA_JuniorDocs in resuming industrial action”. 

It is vital that junior doctors feel the warm embrace of solidarity when they walk out on 20 December.  

Health workers should now start planning solidarity pickets and arranging for local trade unionists to turn up bearing gifts. That will help up the pressure on Atkins and the Tories to improve their offer. But it will also be an encouragement to all health workers suffering low pay to prepare for new rounds of action. 

The new year must be greeted with a fresh wave of health strikes, coordinated to hit the Tories hard. 

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