By Carol Mills
Junior doctors at Eastbourne’s DGH fight for pay restoration and safe patient care began this week. They are among 61,000 trainee doctors taking industrial action. Their fight is not simply for better pay as our Government would like to have you believe. It is a fight to end the current scenario in our hospitals of overworked and demoralised doctors working in understaffed wards.
Ultimately it is a fight for safe patient care and the survival of our NHS. Health Secretary, Steven Barclay failed to turn up for a meeting with the BMA on Friday to avert the strike action. At previous meetings he claimed he lacked the authority to negotiate on pay. It is hardly surprising many people believe our Government is uninterested in hospitals offering safe care.
The NHS has a recruitment and retention crisis
There is a recruitment and retention crisis in the NHS. Nuffield Trust found the NHS in England is short of 12,000 hospital doctors. A major contributing factor to this shortage is the worsening situation about their pay.
It’s a vicious circle, doctors leave for better pay elsewhere, and those who choose to stay in the NHS become ever more overworked and demoralised. Then along comes the cost of living crisis and something has to give.
Why junior doctors are striking
From Monday this week, junior doctors are striking for ‘pay restoration’. Since 2008 governments have cut their pay by 26% in real terms. The BMA is asking for a 35% pay increase to restore wages to pre-austerity levels.
NHS staff are suffering moral injury
Nurses, midwives, physiotherapists and paramedics have also been taking industrial action recently for the same reason. Worsening pay, is leading to an exodus of healthcare staff leaving remaining staff under more pressure. One doctor at Saturday’s national demonstration to end the NHS crisis described staff suffering moral injury. For that is how he views the experiences of doctors who are unable to deliver treatment that they know their patients need.
Dr Robert Laurenson (BMA junior doctors committee co-chair) spoke on the strength of feeling about the decision to take strike action:-
“We are frustrated, in despair and angry and we have voted in our thousands to say, ‘in the name of our profession, our patients, and our NHS, doctors won’t take it any more’.
“The government has only itself to blame, standing by in silent indifference as our members are forced to take this difficult decision.”
Junior doctor leaders at the BMA have had meetings with ministers and government officials in recent weeks. But the government says it will not hold formal pay negotiations unless strikes are paused, and the BMA has declined.
In 2022 the excess death rate in the UK was the highest it had been since the Second World War. The recruitment and retention crisis must be resolved. There is little point the government setting targets to increase the NHS staff shortages, if they refuse to address the crisis in pay levels.
What we need to do as a community
So the fight is on for the junior doctors. We came out on our doorsteps during the pandemic and offered our applause for key workers. But their struggles are now even more severe. If that applause meant anything we mustn’t turn our backs now. Please join them if you can on their picket lines at Eastbourne District General hospital.
This campaign is also concerned that locally our Integrated Care Board has the power to cut staff pay locally. Please sign our petition calling on them to publish details of proposals that may affect our NHS services locally.
Solidarity with Junior Doctors and to all NHS staff fighting for fair pay, better working conditions and safe patient care.