Junior doctor Alex Ashman updates us on junior doctors’ contracts.
This afternoon, the British Medical Association (BMA) announced that they were suspending the 48 hour strike, which was due next week. Hospital management across the country are sure to have cheered at that news. But why would the BMA want to avoid industrial action? What are they asking for? And what are the government doing?
Why Did The BMA Suspend The Strike?
The threat of industrial action before Christmas was enough to force Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt into talks at the eleventh hour. Hunt had previously refused to negotiate, so this ceasefire was a small victory for the BMA.
Last week’s strike action was triggered by a lack of progress, and the need for the BMA to retain the mandate provided by the 97% of members who voted for action. The strike revealed a great deal of public support for junior doctors, and was said to have ‘landed a hit’ on Hunt.
Conciliatory talks at ACAS have now resumed, with Hunt sidelined. The BMA are obviously keen to aid the talks by suspending strike action, whilst keeping the ace in their hand – the 10th February walkout – as an incentive for the government to make a deal. Avoiding excessive strike action keeps the public on the doctors’ side, and thus keeps pressure up on the government.
Why Are The BMA Still Threatening Action?
There are several aspects of the new contract that the BMA find unfair, including:
- Removal of safeguards that prevent unpaid overtime.
- Classification of late evenings and Saturdays as ‘normal hours’.
- Removal of pay for unsocial hours.
- Removal of annual pay rises.
- Removal of pay protection for academics and pregnant women.
Last week, the BMA stated that they still disagreed with the government on around 20 out of the 44 points being discussed.
What Are The Government Doing?
Outside of the talks, the government continue to bully junior doctors. Jeremy Hunt and David Cameron openly blame junior doctors for an imagined lack of 7-day NHS cover. Despite Hunt being criticised for misrepresenting stroke mortality figures, Cameron still repeated his misleading figures on national radio. Both the Health Secretary and the PM have gone on the record threatening the ‘nuclear option’ of forcing the contract upon junior doctors. Whispers in Whitehall are that the government are certain they will win the dispute through sheer brute force. Perhaps they have forgotten that, as with any nuclear option, they are courting mutually assured destruction.