TUC must call a general strike to defend the NHS

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WITH the latest five days of strike action by junior doctors due to end tomorrow, the British Medical Association (BMA) has already set in motion a re-ballot of its members to extend the strike mandate from April through to September 2024.

The determination of junior doctors to carry on the fight for a pay increase that matches the dramatic cut in real-terms pay after a decade of Tory pay freezes, has been driven by the complete refusal of the Tory health secretary to even meet the BMA – let alone offer any credible pay offer.

BMA junior doctors committee co-chairs, Dr Robert Laurenson and Dr Vivek Trivedi, said that the offer from the BMA to delay the latest round of strike action to give time for talks in return for a short extension on the BMA strike mandate was rejected by the Tories.

They pointed out that attacking junior doctors’ pay is an attack on the entire NHS, with medical staff finding it impossible to deliver high quality care ‘when they are exhausted, demoralised, and working in an NHS that is chronically underfunded and understaffed’.

None of this concerns the Tory government. In fact, they have developed even more plans to cut back on doctors and lay the foundation for a fully privatised NHS.

It goes hand-in-hand with the recent decision by the Tory government to reverse its pledge to expand medical school places.

Professor Phil Banfield, chair of the BMA Council, said: ‘It is abundantly clear we have a government who refuses to fund training for the doctors of tomorrow and who also refuse to pay fairly the ones we have today; this is no way to solve the ever increasing workforce crisis the NHS is facing.’

Banfield said he was not surprised that the Tory pledges were just ‘hollow words’ and that this comes in the same week that the Tories are attempting to push through the House of Lords ‘potentially dangerous legislation’ that blurs the distinction between qualified doctors and unqualified ‘medical professionals.’

In this latest attack, the Tories have embarked on a plan to expand the number of Physician Associates (PAs) and Anaesthesia Associates (AAs) while forcing the General Medical Council (GMC) to blur the distinction between them and fully qualified and accredited doctors. The GMC has grouped doctors, PAs and AAs under the umbrella term of ‘medical professionals’.

PAs and AAs are not medically qualified doctors. Their job is mainly to support routine work carried out by doctors, but designating them all as medical professionals not only serves to confuse patients but crucially opens up the avenue for cash-strapped hospital trusts to use them in place of qualified doctors.

Last week, the Financial Times reported that Tory Chancellor Jeremy Hunt is actively considering making billions of pounds of spending cuts to fund massive tax cuts to the rich and corporate businesses in next week’s budget.

With the NHS and every public service already at ‘breaking point’, according to the Institute for Government, they will ‘buckle under the weight’.

If anyone is under the illusion that any future Labour government will come to the rescue of the NHS and the Welfare State, the Labour Party has made it abundantly clear that it will not provide money for the NHS because bankrupt British capitalism cannot afford it.

Labour shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said last month: ‘You can’t just keep pouring ever-increasing amounts of money into a leaky bucket’ – the leaky bucket being the NHS!

Labour is going into the next general election saying to the bosses and bankers that they will be a safe pair of hands for smashing the NHS and opening it up to privatisation.

The working class will never surrender the NHS to the Tories, or any right-wing Labour government.

The only way to defend the NHS is for the TUC to stop sitting back while junior doctors and the BMA fight alone, but to take action by calling a general strike to kick out the Tories and bring in a workers’ government.

Replacing bankrupt British capitalism with a socialist planned economy that will provide a fully-funded healthcare system for all is the only way forward.