The junior doctors’ strike that starts today has a strong claim to be the most selfish and irresponsible piece of industrial action in British history. They are refusing to carry out even emergency care between 8am and 5pm today and tomorrow.
This walk out, the first all-out strike since the NHS’s creation, isn’t over some issue of high principle. It’s about money. The main sticking point in their negotiations with the government is that Saturday shouldn’t be treated as a normal working day.
The BMA’s suggestion at the weekend that it was prepared to call off the walk out if the government didn’t impose the new contract, but instead pilot it for a while, suggests that even the doctors themselves fear they’ll lose public sympathy by going ahead with this strike.
Under the government’s offer, those junior doctors who are on duty one Saturday in four will receive a premium pay rate of 30 per cent. This means they are, on average, getting paid more for working on Saturdays than nurses, midwives and paramedics. The proposed deal is also more generous than what firefighters and police officers get for doing their job on a Saturday. This is hardly grounds for a walkout that will inevitably put lives at risk.
Junior doctors are right that they are paid less than doctors in some other countries. But this is, in large part, because the state has heavily subsidised their education. By the time a doctor has finished their foundation training, the state has already spent a quarter of a million pounds on them.
Until doctors are prepared to pick up more of this tab themselves, they shouldn’t complain that some of those working in other health systems are paid more than them. Indeed, it would be sensible of the state to actually require medical students to commit to working in the NHS for a certain number of years before funding their training—something that it doesn’t currently do. Junior doctors should also remember that if they stay in medicine and become consultants, they will find themselves in the top two percent of earners in this country.
This morning, let us hope that junior doctors remember why they first went into the profession—to try and heal the sick—and cross the picket line.