‘WE are striking to defend the NHS,’ consultants told News Line on their picket lines as Tory Health Secretary Barclay issued a declaration of war against the British Medical Association (BMA) and its members yesterday.
Barclay announced that the Tories’ new Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Act 2023, under which strikers can be sacked and their unions fined £1 million, is to be utilised against the BMA straight away.
Barclay said on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the legislation has been on the statute books since July and will be used against the BMA forthwith.
On the picket line at University College Hospital (UCH) in Euston, central London, Simon Walsh, Deputy Chair Consultants Committee BMA, told News Line: ‘The timing of the government talking about the Minimum Service Levels Bill is a cynical move to detract from the main issues. The NHS struggles for minimum staffing levels all year round. We have taken great trouble to make sure emergency care pathways are staffed safely as on a Christmas Day and other Bank Holidays. All we’re asking is for them to get round a table and negotiate.’
Tom Dolphin, BMA Council member and consultant anaesthetist said: ‘If you try and suppress the pay dispute in this way it doesn’t fix the problem, it only suppresses it. The BMA’s form of strike action is designed to keep things safe for emergencies. For the minister to state that we’re not providing minimum service levels is very misleading. If you try and deal with the problem by suppressing protests about it, you’re just storing up problems for the future.’
On the lively picket at King’s College Hospital in south east London, Priyo Ghosh, Consultant Psychiatrist at Maudlsey Hospital, said: ‘I am striking, first of all and absolutely to protect the NHS, and protect public services. Also doctors deserve a bit more pay. It’s great the Junior Doctors are out tomorrow. Our picket will be massive. If you look at it, it’s like the 1920s now in the world – such poverty, recession, inflation, cost of living – it’s going back 100 years and what happened then, people polarised to the right and to the left.
‘I support the call for the General Strike. Other strikes, the nurses and the teachers were sold out, but the BMA are still fighting not just for us but for other public sector workers. We need nationalisation of banks to fund our NHS and public services. The banks, the railways all of it. We definitely need to change the government to achieve this.’
Consultant Virologist Malur Sudhanva said: ‘Patient safety is a priority. We are already covering. We always have a rota during strikes and we take turns covering. I did not go into medicine to end up in a dispute with the government. I have never been on a picket line in my life, and I have been a practicing consultant for 19 years, so obviously there is something seriously wrong with the government.
‘They are making very mild people like me become militant. They are screwing us over so many times. They want to make the NHS private. I am a virologist, so I have seen the government at close quarters.’
Consultant Laura-Jane Smith said: ‘Staff are leaving because of terrible working conditions. We are losing our colleagues who go off to other countries for better pay. It’s not just about money. Consultants and doctors could be earning more money going private but we love the NHS.’
ASLEF rail union Chingford Branch Chair Bill Rogers demanded that the TUC calls a general strike in response to the move, saying: ‘It’s like a throw back to 100 years ago and Taff Vale, when the railway employers sued the unions for damages when they went on strike.
‘So you ended up with the unions effectively bankrupted by the bosses. And that’s the potential for the BMA, and of course the rail unions as well and indeed all unions.
‘We’ve got a pledge from the General Secretary of the TUC that he will defend any worker sacked under the new legislation. Well that’s going to hapen isn’t it. If they are going to use this law against the BMA they are going to use it against everyone.
‘So we’re all in the same boat and it means that a general strike is the only way of defeating this legislation – but more than that of bringing this government down and having a socialist society.
‘I’ve just noticed in the news today also that local government is teetering on the point of collapse because of the Tory cuts to their finances, with Birmingham, Croydon and lots of others drowning in debt. The Tories won’t keep their minimum service levels going. They’ll smash everything up, including libraries and all local government services.’