THERE were defiant pickets and rallies of striking Junior Doctors and Consultants on Monday, the first day of the current three-day joint British Medical Association (BMA) strike which concludes today.
Striking doctors supported the demand for the Trades Union Congress (TUC) to call a general strike to smash the Strikes Minimum Services Levels Act 2023, the new anti-union law, which the Tories had signed off by the king in July.
The Tories plan to use the new Act to sack workers for going on strike and fine unions up to £1 million for calling strike action.
A lively picket and angry lunchtime rally of 50-100 striking consultants, junior doctors and their supporters was held outside Homerton Hospital in Hackney east London on Monday.
Tom Meriwether, BMA member and junior doctor, told News Line: ‘It’s the largest strike in NHS history, with junior doctors and consultants coming together.
‘None of us wants to strike, however, we feel that we’ll get the deal that we want even though the press are trying all types of defamation of character against us.
‘I’m opposed to the Minimum Services Act and I would love a general strike to defeat it.
‘It would have great grass roots support.’
John Franklin, BMA member and junior doctor, said: ‘I think there should be a minimum service all the time, not just when doctors are on strike.
‘We need a motivated, well-paid and valued workforce.
‘I personally would support a general strike.’
Andrew Myerson, BMA member and junior doctor told the lunchtime rally: ‘10 years ago the NHS was properly funded, but waiting lists have grown.
‘We’re fed up with seeing colleagues suffer because of 13 years of real-terms pay cuts.
‘We’re on strike not because we want to but because we have to because ten years ago Britain had the best NHS in the world so much better than the USA where I come from.
‘It was a remarkable achievement in installing the NHS and I wish the same thing had happened in my country.
‘Ten years ago, GPs could be seen in 24-48 hours, now it’s taking two weeks.
‘Ten years ago, patients could be seen in four hours in A&E, now 24 hours in A&E is not just a television show, it’s reality for so many patients.
‘Ten years ago, the NHS was properly funded, now after a decade of 400 billion pounds being stolen from the NHS budgets, we see the crisis that we have right now.
‘Our waiting list has ballooned to over 7.7 million people and it was 7 million before industrial action happened.
‘The government would love to blame us for the troubles in the NHS but nothing could be further from the truth.
‘We’re fighting for patients because we’re fed up seeing patients suffer in the way that they have, seeing their care suffer, fed up of seeing our colleagues suffer day in, day out.
‘We’re doing the best job that we can inside this wonderful hospital, we love working here, we should be on shift right now unfortunately, this government has forced us into this position.
‘Doctors and nurses have seen a massive pay cut over the last 15 years and that is unacceptable and we’re seeing 13,000 registered doctors working abroad as we know working conditions are awful here.
‘That’s why we’re fighting for our professions, future, patients and the NHS.
‘For somebody who does not come from a country with an NHS, that’s why I fight for the NHS and that’s why every single one of us needs to fight for the NHS and we can’t stop fighting until the NHS is safe.’
Dr Myerson later told News Line: ‘I support a general strike to defeat the pay cuts, staff shortages and privatisation of the NHS.’
Sean Wallis, University and College Union (UCU) member who had come to show solidarity and support, told the Homerton rally: ‘Every person is pleased that you are standing up for yourselves and for the NHS.’
Dave Davies, National Education Union (NEU) member, said: ‘Junior doctors are standing up to the government to show we don’t have to accept the crumbs from the Tories.
‘This is a fight for all trades unionists and people in the community.’
There was also a very lively picket at University College Hospital, opposite Euston Station in central London, where strikers were chanting: ‘Pay restoration – doctor retention!’ ‘Save the NHS – We are the NHS!’
Junior doctor Dan Arthurs told News Line: ‘The Tory government’s policy is to attack strikers.
‘They are treating workers very badly.
‘It all fits in with what they are doing with the protest laws and the right to strike, which is fundamental for workers.
‘We are also striking for restoration of pay because we are 35% down through inflation since 2008, a massive pay cut.
‘The erosion of pay has gone hand in hand with the erosion of staff morale.’
BMA Consultant Anaesthetist Dr Tom Dolphin told News Line: ‘We want the NHS to succeed, but we can’t do that if there are 8,000 empty doctor places across the NHS and that is, in part, because of pay.
‘We are on strike now because we know that if we don’t make a stand the pain will continue to grow.
‘We would be happy to negotiate, but the government are refusing to do so.’
There was a staunch picket line of BMA consultants at the Norfolk and Norwich hospital.
Simon Fletcher, Local Negotiating Committee (LNC) Lead, commented: ‘Most of this has come to a head because everyone is fed up with the disintegration of the NHS and the alternative truths put out by the government.
‘Pay is an issue. No one is going to tolerate a third cut in their pay in real-terms inflation-adjusted in the last five years.
‘Since 2008/9 there has been no pay rise – all sub-inflation.
‘They are pretending that the Pay Review Body is fair, whilst the award they recommend is always what the government wants.
‘They pretend they can’t afford to pay. But they paid the judges and the barristers.
‘The consultants have had the biggest pay cut followed by the junior doctors.
‘Social care doesn’t really exist. Care workers are so poorly paid they are better off working in Tescos.
‘The money allocated to the NHS is 2% less as a proportion of GDP compared to equivalent European countries.
‘We would never have considered striking but for the running down of the NHS.
‘This is consolidated action. We here all work in front-door medical specialties.’
Doctors from King’s College and Maudsley Hospitals joined forces on the picket at Denmark Hill in south east London, determined to defend the National Health Service as a service free at the ‘point of need’.
Raj Mohan, Consultant Psychiatrist told News Line: ‘The government has not come to the negotiating table.
‘They have not done anything to resolve this conflict
‘They have done nothing to improve the health care system.
‘They have chosen to lie and undermine doctors and health care workers.
‘I think it is so important that all organisations get together and protest against these policies, because it is not appropriate that public services are being eroded on such a scale. We do need to act together!’
Priyo Ghosh, Consultant Psychiatrist agreed saying: ‘I think in terms of BMA strategy, I’m not sure what we have got yet, and I think there needs to be a joint approach.
‘So we are talking about the TUC here. There should be a wider approach.
‘For example, consultants and junior doctors have now come together.
‘Now we are looking at SAS (specialist grade) doctors coming together as well. So all doctors are going to strike together.
‘So let’s look at the wider health care field. Our other colleagues like Radiographers are striking on Wednesday (today).
‘It was disappointing that the nurses’ leaders agreed to the pay deal but the issues of shortages of nurses remain.
‘So, in that sense, a more general strike of all health workers, and I think other workers like railway workers, bringing them into the fight together with us, I think that is the next strategy under the umbrella of the TUC.’