The new year opens to the sound of picket lines. Starting on Wednesday this week, junior doctors are striking for 6 days, targeted to cause the most amount of disruption at the most difficult time of the year for the NHS. It is expected that this will result in cancelations of 200,000 appointments. This is a big deal for patients needing treatment, many in pain.
There have been other NHS strikes and they have all been resolved. Nurses and senior doctors have settled for reasonable pay rises, whilst junior doctors in Scotland have also settled. The government has already given English junior doctors an 8.8% rise and offered a further 3%. But they are holding out for an all-or-nothing rise to get back to 2008 standards, allowing for subsequent inflation. That’s 35%, and they also want it guaranteed to be index linked in the future.
It's worth looking at a bit of history.
Back in the early part of this century, the Labour government started hiking the NHS budget enormously. Some, at the time and even now, attribute this to the so-called Kidderminster effect. Few here in Wyre Forest will be unaware of the extraordinary and historic victory of Dr Richard Taylor in the 2001 general election, elected by the whole community’s desire to stop the Labour government’s plans to downscale our local hospital and close the A+E department. His election was astonishing, seeing the rejection of the local Labour MP, and it was in response that the Labour government started hiking NHS spending.
Of course, hosing money at any organisation does not result in more efficient spending and salaries went up. In particular, junior doctors’ salaries hit an all-time relative high around 2008, and it is that high, not the long term trend, that the Junior Doctors’ Committee of the BMA seeks to go back to.
Spending taxpayers’ money is a serious job. Responding to the demands of one group of public sector workers has implications: higher taxes for workers; renewed demands from others who had settled on reasonable terms; inflation as money supply into the economy is increased; the need to borrow more, or cut resources to other public services.
The junior doctors’ strike is highly contentious and is not popular, including, it seems, from NHS workers and those involved in the health sector. Moreover, it knowingly puts pressure on an already strained system and its toughest time of year. It really is time that the junior doctors got around the table again.