The Junior Doctors’ Strike: Benjamin Eckford gets inside the story

Last Tuesday and Wednesday, junior doctors across the country were out on strike again in protest against their new contract, as proposed by the government’s Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

On Tuesday morning I joined them on the picket line, then attended a rally that evening at Brunswick Methodist Hall.

It was opened by Dr. Pete Campbell, the BMA junior doctors’ committee secretary for the North East region, giving a passionate rallying call.

Campbell said: “Hunt claims the BMA has radicalised a generation of junior doctors.

“No. A generation of junior doctors have radicalised the BMA. Senior people in the BMA have tried to damp us down, but we said no, because we care so passionately about our NHS.”

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Images: Benjamin Eckford

Messages of solidarity were given by Merike Lawlor from the National Union of Teachers, Tony Dowling, a teacher and the North East secretary of the People’s Assembly Against Austerity, and a college teacher from Scotland whose union won a strike against the SNP government.

There were then testimonies from other junior doctors.

“We care so passionately about our NHS”

Recurring themes were criticism of Hunt for his incompetence, leading to ‘ewer doctors on every shift and predictions that the service will collapse, his refusal to listen to the junior doctors complaints about their proposed new contract, that this government’s long-term plan is to undermine the NHS, giving them an excuse to privatise it, and that the contract will disproportionately affect women and doctors who are parents, particularly single fathers. Numerous references were made on the outsourcing of various care services to private providers such as Virgin Healthcare.

‘Where is this going? Hunt wants to sell the NHS off bit by bit’ was one such statement.

One junior doctor even told how they left a shift thinking that they hadn’t given the level of care that they wanted to because they didn’t have time.

There was special fury at the media coverage of the strike, and Hunt’s constant inflammatory remarks, blaming the junior doctors and painting them as putting patients’ safety at risk.

The opposite is true, according to the doctors themselves, who stressed that the contract will mean doctors will be tired at work, and tired doctors make mistakes.

“Hunt wants to sell the NHS off bit by bit”

Many protested that they were not being listened to about why we’re opposed to the contract, and said that it was not about pay, it is about safety and patient care.

It was then thrown open to comments from the floor, stressing the need to combat the media’s hostility towards the strike, and comparing the strike to the 1984-5 Miners’ Strike, urging the doctors to keep fighting.

A psychiatric nurse called Mauricco spoke movingly about how ‘the inspiration the junior doctors are giving to people is fantastic’.

He spoke of the applause the junior doctors received from ordinary people during the march through Northumberland Street, and warned that if they beat the junior doctors, every other group of workers will suffer.

The stand of the junior doctors has become emblematic of the whole struggle against the government’s programme of austerity and privatisation.

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