FIRST they came for the working poor and the youth with their massive and continuing austerity cuts; then they came for the trade unions with their programme calculated to make legal strike actions impossible, that would see principled trade unionists put behind bars; and now they have come for the doctors, threatening to impose new contracts onto them, a dictatorial step that would have earned the applause of Mussolini.
‘Demagogue Hunt’ the Health Secretary, renowned for his worship of the Murdoch empire, ventured as far as to blame the doctors alleged Monday-to-Friday culture, for ‘tragic consequences’ including 6,000 patients dying a year.
He accused doctors and other health workers of murder, or manslaughter, as he worked at whipping up a fury to try to intimidate doctors into accepting what he wants to see, seven-day working and the privatisation of the NHS.
He accused the BMA of being out of touch with its members and said he would not allow them to be a ‘roadblock’ to reform, before warning: ‘Be in no doubt, if we can’t negotiate, we are ready to impose a new contract.’
BMA leader, Doctor Mark Porter responded to this vicious raving saying: ‘Today’s announcement is nothing more than a wholesale attack on doctors to mask the fact that for two years the government has failed to outline any concrete proposals for introducing more seven-day hospital services. The health secretary has questions to answer. How does he plan to pay for it? How will he ensure there isn’t a reduction in mid-week services or fewer doctors on wards Monday to Friday? Yet again there are no answers.
‘More than 80 per cent of the public believe that doctors alone cannot deliver seven-day services without proper support, yet the health secretary makes no mention of the extra nurses, diagnostic staff, porters, admin staff – the list goes on – that would be needed to deliver the same high level standard of care patients deserve seven-days a week.
‘Doctors believe patients should have access to the same quality of care, seven days a week. If the health secretary wants the same, he should be working with us, not setting artificial deadlines and attacking the very people who are the leading advocates for patients, protecting and improving patient care in the face of unprecedented rising demand and funding deficits.
‘This is a blatant attempt by the government to distract from its refusal to invest properly in emergency care. So, I say again to the health secretary, get real and show us what you mean.’
Hunt however has already shown what he means with his threat: ‘Be in no doubt, if we can’t negotiate, we are ready to impose a new contract.’
In fact, Hunt is frightened that the BMA and the health service trade unions will become an impassable roadblock to cutting, closing and privatising the NHS. This is why he is reaching for the cudgel, while the BMA insists that its members already work on weekends, carrying out emergency procedures.
The Tories are threatening the working poor, threatening the trade unions and now threatening and seeking to beat down the BMA doctors. However, two can play this game, and the fact of the matter is that the trade unions, including the health workers’ organisations and the working class as a whole, have much more power to play it than the Tories.
The working class treasures its NHS and its consultants, doctors and nurses and will react to ‘Dictator Hunt’ with anger. It knows that Hunt is counting on the BMA not being able to come out on strike because of the needs of patients. Now is the time for the trade unions to proclaim that an injury to the doctors is an injury to all.
The trade unions must tell the government that they will not stand for the doctors being pilloried, the millions of working poor being pauperised, and trade unionism being made illegal.
The TUC must be recalled and it must be made, by its seven million trade union members, to call an indefinite general strike to bring down the Tories and bring in a workers’ government and socialism.
This is the only way to treat Hunt, Osborne and Cameron and the Tory ruling class that they represent. Call the general strike!