Junior Doctors to Strike for 5 Consecutive Days

  | James Innes

Earlier today, it was announced that junior doctors will be staging a series of five day strikes over the next four months as arguments continue over the introduction of a new contract. This is not the first strike action taken by junior doctors over this contract but this is potentially the most devastating. Initial reports suggest that up to 100,000 operations may have to be postponed as a result whilst many, many more routine appointments will be cancelled. So what exactly is it all about?

Discussions about this new contract began back in 2012, with Ministers wanting to make significant changes to terms and conditions, primarily around weekend working, as it aims to achieve a fully 24/7 NHS service. However, talks broke down in 2014 and, when no agreement had been reached by the summer of 2015, Jeremy Hunt announced that he would seek to impose a deal with or without the agreement of the British Medical Association. In response, a ballot of BMA members saw a 98% vote in favour of strike action. Talks resumed at the beginning of this year but, once again, no agreement could be reached so in February, Ministers repeated their announcement that they would be imposing the contract in the summer. This is when junior doctors first took strike action.

In May, a deal was agreed upon in principle but a further vote by BMA members saw this deal rejected. So the current situation is that ministers want to impose the deal and junior doctors are striking once again, but this time in a rolling programme of industrial action that could last many months.

If this new contract is imposed, junior doctors fear that the already critical workforce situation within the NHS will be worsened. It is also suggested that the deal fails to treat all doctors fairly. From the perspective of the junior doctors, the advantage of going on strike is that they can protect themselves from seemingly unfair deals being imposed upon them without the risk of being fired or otherwise punished for their actions. 

But there are also distinct disadvantages to strike action, primarily the potentially devastating impact on patient care as well as the financial ramifications for the already cash-strapped NHS. Accusations have been made that the doctors union is risking patient safety by "playing politics" - and what will this strike action do to the reputation of the medical profession?

Both sides of the dispute believe that their actions are, ultimately, in the best interests of patients across the country. And perhaps they are both right. Surely a truly 24/7 NHS is something that we should be aiming for. But there has to be a way of achieving this without being unfair to the junior doctors who already work tirelessly to save lives? 

Unless the government agrees not to impose the new deal, these strikes look set to go ahead, with the first one scheduled for September 12th. Let's hope they can reach an agreement before then. 

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