THE decision by the BMA on Monday to walk away from the negotiations over the imposition of new contracts for junior doctors and to implement strike action next week is to be applauded.
That the Tories and the health employers are not really interested in securing a compromise deal that satisfied the doctors was made clear by BMA leaders. The head of the BMA, Dr Mark Porter, said the union had no choice because after weeks of negotiations the government is still not taking doctors concerns ‘seriously’.
Dr Johann Malawana, Chairman of the BMA junior doctors committee, spelt out the government’s negotiating stance in his letter officially confirming strike action would take place. He wrote of the government propaganda issued about the breakdown of talks: ‘It does not give the full picture, using unnecessarily provocative language and is either deliberately vague or omits altogether the BMA’s position, including areas where we believed we had reached agreement.’
The Tory lie machine is pumping out a picture that the negotiations have failed because of greedy junior doctors who don’t want to work weekends. This blatant slander is a very transparent attempt to cover the real strategic aim of the Tories – the complete privatisation and destruction of the NHS.
Last year Hunt arrogantly announced that he would impose a new contract on junior doctors that would cut their take-home pay and force them to work extended hours. This would create overworked, physically exhausted doctors – something that would pose a risk to patient health.
But junior doctors were just the start. Hunt intended to impose similar contracts on every NHS worker. But when a ballot for strike action recorded a massive 98% in favour and strike dates were set last November, Hunt was forced to make a humiliating climbdown and agree to halt implementation by decree and enter into further negotiations with the BMA, something he had vowed would never happen.
What is now emerging is that the hapless Hunt is being led during the negotiations by Cameron’s own personal health advisor, Nick Seddon. Seddon was appointed fresh from being the deputy director of the right-wing think tank ‘Reform’, funded by the private healthcare and insurance companies, which advocates cuts and privatisation of the NHS. Seddon is on record proposing charging patients for GP appointments.
Before that he was a lobbyist for Circle Health, the privateer which took over the running of Hinchinbrooke Hospital, the first NHS hospital to be privatised. Last year Circle dumped the contract at the hospital when it found it couldn’t make the profits it expected. Seddon’s behind-the-scenes involvement in the junior doctors negotiations graphically illustrates what is at stake in their fight – the very future of the NHS.
The Tories were forced to back down last November but if they cave in today, when faced with strikes, their whole strategy of privatisation will be in tatters. It would spell the end not just of Hunt but of Cameron and Osborne and the Tory government, exposing its weakness and opening the floodgates of strikes by workers furious at Tory austerity cuts. This is a battle that the Tories will be forced to fight out to the end.
Equally, the working class, who overwhelmingly support junior doctors, must demand that the entire trade union movement be mobilised to defend the NHS. Junior doctors and student nurses, along with GPs who have called a special conference to discuss calling industrial action to defend GP services, are right out in front of this struggle. They must not be left to fight for the NHS on their own.
The student nurses have called for all workers, students and youth to join their national demonstration this Saturday to restore their student bursaries. Assemble outside St Thomas’ Hospital at 12 noon.
Trade union branches throughout the country must demand that the leadership of the TUC act immediately on their existing policy of considering calling a general strike, a policy they have ignored for years, and organise one immediately.
Only a general strike to kick out the Tories and privateers and advancing to a workers government and socialism can defend the NHS today. All out behind the junior doctors – a General Strike to kick the Tories out!