Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

Help doctors win

Jane Stratton has been organising with the junior doctors and explains why their struggle is everyone’s fight

November 30, 2015
8 min read

doctors4

*This article is available as a printable pdf for sharing on the picket lines – let us know if you use it; jenny@redpepper.org.uk And good luck!*

On the surface of it, the papers would have you believe this dispute is about pay, but the new junior contract represents a complete reorganisation of our working lives. We are already at breaking point: 68-72 hour weeks are the norm for us, our shifts often span 13 gruelling hours, barely stopping for food and they have become busier as the population has got older and the treatment options we can offer have increased.

As well as ruining our sleep patterns, social lives and family lives, long hours are unsafe for our patients. As every militant doctor will tell you we really are militant when it comes to patient safety. Doctors are clear that we have to fight this contract in order to maintain our obligations to our patients.

A junior doctor is any doctor who is not a consultant or a GP. This means we are junior doctors for different periods of time depending on what speciality path we choose to follow. We all complete two foundation years of training straight after graduation. After this we may do anything from three to fifteen years before completing training. Some junior doctors are, therefore, very senior.

Ten years into my career I am now doubting whether I could commit to a further seven years of training under the new contract, and I’m not alone. Long hours, seemingly endless training and professional exams for mediocre pay will quickly cease to be worth it. As Johann Malawana says, if faced with a choice between looking after your child, or going to work on a Saturday night when childcare is even more difficult to find, he would without doubt choose his two year old son. Every sensible doctor I know is currently weighing up the options for a move to Scotland, Australia or another job. Of course these are tough choices and such high stakes are fuelling the fight, so we may yet win.

In November junior doctors in England had an unprecedented ballot result – 98% voted in favour of strike action. This is one step in a unifying process among all junior doctors in the UK over the last few months. Other staff groups have watched in awe as we have gathered support to produce that result.

The demands of the industrial action are to enter back into ‘meaningful negotiation’ with removal of the threat of imposition and the following reassurances:

  • Proper recognition of unsocial hours as premium time.
  • No disadvantage for those working unsocial hours compared to the current system.
  • No disadvantage for those working less than full time and taking parental leave compared to the current system.
  • Pay for all work done.
  • Proper hours safeguards protecting patients and their doctors.

But as care providers it can be hard to motivate the workforce to walk away from their work and difficult to convince the public it is in their interest for us to do so. This is where we need your help in the coming weeks. We expect the government to do all they can to make us feel the public and patients aren’t with us in order to reduce the numbers taking industrial action – you can help us counter that.

NHS Sell off
doctors3The new junior doctor contract is a wholesale attack on the working conditions of junior doctors and it’s a vital step in the government’s ability to sell off NHS services to private providers. We currently still have contracts that have job stability, decent sick pay, the best pensions and recognition of unsociable hours as premium time. The government knows it can’t sell off NHS services with our current contracts – to be profitable the NHS needs a de-skilled and cheaper workforce. As long as we continue to fight for our terms and conditions as workers, we continue to be a spanner in the works of privatisation. As NHS employees we are part of the biggest workforce in the country and are therefore a huge threat to the government’s plans for privatisation.

The loss of pay progression will have a huge financial impact on those working less than full-time, taking parental leave or time out of training, therefore hitting women, parents and carers the hardest. Medicine has recently been on track to become a profession dominated by women (although senior leadership roles and medical academia are still dominated by men) but we’re looking at a huge step backwards in terms of gender equality if these contracts go ahead. This lead Jill Bradley to ask whether the NHS is following a common pattern where once an occupation becomes associated with women’s employment it is suddenly no longer worth so much. A good healthcare system needs a diverse workforce that reflects the society it serves.

Very few people enter work in the NHS without a sense of solidarity to other people. The General Medical Council states that we should ‘make the concern of the patient in front of us our first priority’. The government is eroding our ability to do this. And we are also patients, parents, grandparents, sons and daughters who are invested in a functioning free at the point of access healthcare system.

Healthcare staff have witnessed the results of austerity as people walk through our doors each day. Austerity impacts on people’s health and when social care breaks down the A&E doors remain open. We are paid to give a shit about people’s lives. We are professional advocates. So of course we will fight to protect the NHS and it’s fundamental principles.

We see first-hand how the spin about the failings of the NHS is used to drive society towards the inevitability of a privatised system. The NHS was never perfect but healthcare staff are in the best position to improve services yet at the moment we’re in a struggle for survival. If you wanted to create an efficient, world class healthcare system the NHS would be a good place to start.

What can people do?

We need help to ensure the strike is as strong as the ballot. Help us talk to the public, talk to each other, talk to your family and friends and convince them that this fight matters for the future of the healthcare they receive.

If we are forced to strike come along to a rally, attend your local picket, or find your local #meetthedoctors (pictured). Drink a brew with us. Bring a banner. Make this about a wider struggle. Expose the private profiteers who will inevitably fail in the coming years because healthcare won’t ever be profitable. Let’s stop them by whatever means necessary before we’re all paying compulsory health insurance and being told you can only have the ‘premium’ gold standard healthcare if you pay for it. Jeremy Hunt has labelled us all militant doctors – when society needs militant doctors something has gone seriously wrong.

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.
Share this article  
  share on facebook     share on twitter  

Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism

Catalan independence is not just ‘nationalism’ – it’s a rebellion against nationalism
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte argue that Catalonia's independence movement is driven by solidarity – and resistance to far-right Spanish nationalists

Tabloids do not represent the working class
The tabloid press claims to be an authentic voice of the working class - but it's run by and for the elites, writes Matt Thompson

As London City Airport turns 30, let’s imagine a world without it
London City Airport has faced resistance for its entire lifetime, writes Ali Tamlit – and some day soon we will win

The first world war sowed the seeds of the Russian revolution
An excerpt from 'October', China Mieville's book revisiting the story of the Russian Revolution

Academies run ‘on the basis of fear’
Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) was described in a damning report as an organisation run 'on the basis of fear'. Jon Trickett MP examines an education system in crisis.

‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition

#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny

Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke

The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana

Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth

Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company

You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild

Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University

This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback

Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein

Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up

Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement

‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic

Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden

There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright

Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones

‘Your credit score is not sufficient to enter this location’: the risks of the ‘smart city’
Jathan Sadowski explains techno-political trends of exclusion and enforcement in our cities, and how to overcome this new type of digital oppression

Why I’m standing with pregnant women and resisting NHS passport checks
Dr Joanna Dobbin says the government is making migrant women afraid to seek healthcare, increasing their chances of complications or even death

‘Committees in Defence of the Referendum’: update from Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte on developments as the Catalan people resist the Spanish state's crackdown on their independence referendum

The rights and safety of LGBTQ+ people are not guaranteed – we must continue to fight for them
Kennedy Walker looks at the growth in hate attacks at a time when the Tory government is being propped up by homophobes