Consultant psychiatrist speaks on UK’s joint junior-senior doctors strike

Tens of thousands of junior doctors and consultants took strike action in Britain this week. Both groups are represented by the British Medical Association (BMA), who walked alongside junior doctors in the Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association.

The consultants, senior doctors, walked out on Tuesday and Wednesday and the junior doctors for three days Wednesday to Saturday morning—the latter’s sixth round of strikes. This made Wednesday the first day of joint action by junior and senior doctors in the history of the National Health Service (NHS).

Doctors on strike at South London and Maudsley NHS Trust, September 20, 2023

More joint action is planned for October, with both groups of workers striking October 2-5, coinciding with the ruling Conservative Party’s annual conference.

World Socialist Web Site reporters spoke with a consultant psychiatrist at South London and Maudsley Trust, who wished to remain anonymous. He explained the strike was formally about pay—the BMA is seeking a 12 percent rise for 2023-24 (just above inflation the year before) for consultants, and 35 percent for junior doctors—but that the issues being protested went far wider.

“The strike is ultimately about pay restoration. But because of the nature of how [the healthcare] system is organised at the moment, pay restoration becomes the only medium through which we can talk about how healthcare is being managed and how the NHS is being inadequately supported by the government.

“Doctors want a quality of experience at work that allows them to do their jobs, to do everything they’ve been trained to do for years. But I think it’s very difficult for us to pull any levers without talking about pay restoration. In one sense it’s about maintaining a certain sense of stability of income as much it is about ensuring what we have a way to express our concerns out the line of travel for the National Health Service at the moment.”

He added, “I think it’s quite misguided and ignorant to think that people are going to continue doing work that’s this challenging if they’re not feeling supported. It’s a massive problem: the workforce will start bleeding out and people will go to different places, people will move to different industries… There are really good questions to be asked here: if the health service isn’t a priority, what is?”

Government spending on healthcare fell a cumulative £400 billion behind the average of 14 comparable European countries in the decade to 2019—£730 billion behind Germany. Nurses and doctors have seen their real terms wages fall by 7-8 percent on average, declining as much as 20-30 percent for some—there are over 43,000 nursing vacancies and roughly 10,000 doctors vacancies. The UK has been left with some of the lowest rates of hospital beds, nurses, and doctors per person among similar economies.


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