Sophie W, a medical student in London, looks at what you can do to support the junior doctors strike
27,741 Junior doctors have voted to take strike action in the face on proposed contract changes.
More than 76 % of the 37,155 junior doctors took part in the ballot, with 99.4 % saying they would take action short of strike and 98 % saying they would take action including strike.
This is a resounding call for action from junior doctors, and gives the BMA a very strong mandate with which to leverage the Department of Health to reject the proposed contract.
Strike dates have been announced for the first two weeks of December:
- 8 am to 5 pm 1/12/2015 – Emergency cover only
- 8 am to 5 pm 8/12/2015 – Full walk out
- 8 am to 5 pm 16/12/2015 – Full walk out
What does this mean for junior doctors?
On the first strike date, Christmas shift cover will be in place. That means junior doctors will be in A&E and on-call to provide emergency cover for inpatients, but no planned operations or clinics. On the following strike days, junior doctors will not attend work, and will not provide emergency cover.
Junior doctors working on shifts up until the strike begins are asked to “handover” their patients to the emergency team, or other healthcare workers or consultants on shift.
The BMA guidance states that all junior doctors with a contract with an NHS England employer can take part. That includes all junior doctors, GPs, locum doctors and those on maternity or sick leave. The only doctors who outright cannot strike are military doctors who are employed by the armed forces.
What does this mean for patients?
Hospitals will be very very busy. On the first day, it will be like attending A&E or being an inpatient on Christmas Day – just without the tacky decorations or Christmas carols.
On the following strike days, consultants and nursing staff will be filling in the gaps in care that junior doctors would ordinarily fill.
During the junior doctors’ campaign, a key slogan has been #notfairnotsafe. This conveys how the proposed contract is both too demanding of junior doctors, and even with some face-value concessions, it still doesn’t provide adequate safeguard to their hours to ensure they aren’t overworked and their patients are safe.
Now the strike has been declared, the Department of Health has taken up it’s own slogan about patient safety, declaring the strikes unsafe for patients.
It is true that many doctors have their reservations about being on strike. When you train as a doctor, you pledge an oath to care for your patients, and to do them no harm. For many, not going into work feels like an unnecessary harm.
However, there is no evidence to suggest that doctors taking strike action is associated with increased harm to patients. In fact, one meta-analysis (a report taking into account a number of studies) showed the risk to patients either stayed the same during strike action, or actually went down (so much for the oath!).
This study used reports of strikes ranging from 9 days to 17 weeks consecutively. What the BMA is proposing is 3 days spread out over 3 weeks.
There is also the question about long term patient safety. If the Department of Health is so concerned about patient welfare, why is it continuing to insist on removing safeguards? Junior doctors see that they have to take strike action to protect their patients; they are not prepared to compromise on new contracts they feel know are unsafe.
What can we do to support the junior doctors?
We need to defend the junior doctors on strike, but to also understand their nervousness.
As of yet, the BMA has not released any information about proposed actions on the strike days, and there is no information about picket lines. If the BMA do call for hospital pickets, we need to be there to show support. If they plan for regional or nationwide demonstrations, we need to be there to show support.
While everyone could use the NHS, not everyone will be able to find a junior doctor to talk to, and be convinced that the strikes are necessary.
Junior doctors have been running an information campaign #talktothedoctors, to build public support for the strikes.
Similarly, medical students in London are planning a day-long action, aiming to build public support for strike action by giving out leaflets and badges outside tube stations and running a social media tagline to engage members of the public, the NHS-users.
This is a wonderful show to defiance against this government’s agenda to attack the most valuable resource in the NHS: the people that work for it.
This government continues to neglect the buildings and sink essential funds into profits and into driving through privatisation, but we will not let the government demoralise and bully it’s junior doctors.