Victory to Junior Doctors! – 98% vote for strike action

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Junior doctors rallying to defend the NHS – they have now proven to Health Secretary Hunt that their defence of the NHS is serious
Junior doctors rallying to defend the NHS – they have now proven to Health Secretary Hunt that their defence of the NHS is serious

JUNIOR doctors yesterday overwhelmingly voted in favour of taking strike action to defeat the government’s intent to impose a new junior doctor contract in England from August next year, said the British Medical Association (BMA).

The BMA added: ‘Following a ballot of more than 37,000 junior doctors in England, more than 99 per cent have voted in favour of industrial action short of a strike, and 98 per cent for full strike action, demonstrating the strength of feeling amongst the profession.’

The dates and type of action that junior doctors will take are: Emergency care only – 8am, Tuesday 1 December to 8am, Wednesday 2 December 2015 Full withdrawal of labour – 8am to 5pm, Tuesday 8 December 2015 Full withdrawal of labour – 8am to 5pm, Wednesday 16 December 2015.

The union continued: ‘While the BMA regrets the inevitable disruption that this will cause, junior doctors have clearly been left with no alternative due to the government’s continued threat to impose a contract that is unsafe for patients and unfair for doctors.’

Dr Mark Porter, BMA council chair, said: ‘We regret the inevitable disruption that this will cause but it is the government’s adamant insistence on imposing a contract that is unsafe for patients in the future, and unfair for doctors now and in the future, that has brought us to this point.

‘Patients are doctors’ first priority, which is why, even with such a resounding mandate, we are keen to avert the need for industrial action, which is why we have approached ACAS to offer conciliatory talks with the health secretary and NHS Employers to clarify the conflicting information coming from government over the past weeks.

‘The health secretary is right when he says this action is “wholly avoidable”. Our message to him is that junior doctors have today made their views perfectly clear but that it is still possible to get back around the negotiating table to deliver a contract that is safe for patients, contains the necessary contractual safeguards to prevent junior doctors being overworked and properly recognises evening and weekend work.’

An RCN spokesperson said: ‘We support the doctors’ right to take lawful industrial action and hope that this can be resolved through negotiation before the declared days of action.” The TUC had the same message: that it supports the junior doctors’ strike action and the BMA’s call for negotiations.

Unison said it is ‘backing the strike action’.

Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said: ‘The result is a sign of huge dissatisfaction with NHS pay. It sends a clear message that staff will no longer tolerate the government’s approach of making savings in the health service solely by withholding pay and cutting jobs. Jeremy Hunt might think that cutting the extra cash that junior doctors and other NHS staff receive for working at night or weekends – when most other people are either sleeping or enjoying their leisure time – is no big deal. But pay austerity has meant that health workers now rely on unsocial hours payments just to boost their shrinking salaries and make it through the month.’

The GMB also said it supports the junior doctors action. Rehana Azam, GMB National Officer, said: ‘This overwhelming vote shows clearly that doctors and other NHS staff will oppose attempts by government to redefine unsocial hours and to open the door for excessive working hours. NHS staff are committed to a 24/7 service. However, staff rostered to work between 7pm and 7am during the week and at weekends must be paid relevant unsocial hours premia. In addition, attempts to open the door to watering down the Working Time Directive have to be resisted.’

She urged: ‘With 98% of junior doctors voting in favour of strike action, we ask Mr Hunt to think again. NHS staff are the backbone of the NHS yet the Secretary of State for Health continues to pick unnecessary fights with them. The BMA in standing up for junior doctors is standing up for the NHS and the GMB stand in solidarity with all NHS staff standing up to defend their terms and conditions.

‘We need the PM to stand in and resolve this dispute because the negotiations set up by Mr Hunt was purposefully set up to fail.’ A panicky Unite announced, ‘The failure of government “to come to its senses” has led to the junior doctors taking drastic industrial action for the first time in 40 years.’

Dr Ron Singer, chair of the Medical Practitioners Union section of Unite, said: ‘Doctors in Unite have pledged to support their junior colleagues, backed up by the national health committee of Unite, which represents 100,000 members in the health service. This strike represents a failure by government to accept that its proposals and decision to impose them are counter to safe medical practice, as well as to safe working practice.’

Singer added: ‘We will enlist support from other NHS members of Unite and other unions to offer their help within the law to work locally with BMA reps. We will exert whatever pressure we can to bring the government to its senses – drop the threat of imposition; open all aspects of the proposed contract to serious negotiation and thereby bring a swift end to this dispute.’

Dr Eric Watts, Chair of Doctors for the NHS said: ‘This is a massive endorsement of the juniors’ position – we support them in their demand for talks with no preconditions.’