BMA and Hunt in political showdown as junior doctor strikes loom

While the government and the BMA engage in heated political debate, Dame Sally Davies, chief medical officer for England, is urging junior doctors to reconsider striking in a last-minute effort to avoid tomorrow’s planned industrial action.

While she expressed sympathy with their cause, Dame Sally argued industrial action “will lead to patients suffering, and not doctor wants to see that happen”.

This mirrored much of the government’s own messaging in its ongoing row with the BMA. In an interview with the Telegraph this weekend, health secretary Jeremy Hunt said A&E departments could be forced to close as a result of planned strikes.

He claimed patients would be put at risk as a result of walkouts, with more than 4,000 operations at risk of cancellation when junior doctors strike for 24 hours tomorrow.

“I know that many hospitals will ask consultants and other staff to step in for that day. But we also have to be honest that hospitals are stretched at the moment, There are some hospitals that have large numbers of vacancies,” he said.

“We are now going through an exhaustive process with every hospital in the country to try and understand which are the hospitals that might struggle to keep A&E departments open if junior doctors withdraw their labour.”

But Hunt also raised the possibility that “some elements” of the doctors’ union could be pushing on with strikes as a “political opportunity to bash a Tory government that they hate”, although he conceded that this does not apply to the “vast majority” of doctors.

“I think it's really important that the BMA leadership reign in any elements who are looking at this strike in that way because that would be the worst possible thing for the NHS,” the health secretary continued.

“One of the most disappointing things about this dispute has been the amount of misinformation that has gone around about what the government is trying to do. We are not cutting pay for junior doctors. But I can understand that if you are being told that the government wants to cut your pay you would feel desperately undervalued.”

Other leading Conservatives have been blaming the looming strikes on Labour’s effect on the BMA, with London Mayor Boris Johnson MP arguing that the association’s leadership “is in the grip of advanced Corbynitis”.

Just this afternoon, prime minister David Cameron called on medics "at the late stage" to get to the round table and ditch the proposed strike, saying: “This strike is not necessary, it will be damaging.

“We are doing everything we can to mitigate its effects but you can't have a strike on this scale in our NHS without their being some real difficulties for patients and potentially worse.“

This morning, the BMA hit back at Whitehall’s position by suggesting junior doctors could not have confidence in a government which “has been deliberately turning up the temperature behind the scenes in order to misrepresent them”.

“No doctor takes industrial action lightly and we regret the disruption it will cause. However, junior doctors now feel that they have no option,” an association spokesperson said.

“The government is threatening to impose contracts in which junior doctors have no confidence and which represents the first step in a wholesale attack on all NHS staff at night and over weekends. We want a contract that is safe for patients, fair for juniors and good for the NHS.

“This not the view of the few as the government would have the public believe: the BMA’s ballot of its members received a near unanimous vote for industrial action. Jeremy Hunt must now take account of their fears and frustration and listen to what they are saying.”

Junior doctors have also been left angered over the weekend after tabloid headlines implied they were enjoying lavish holidays and parties despite the impending strikes. Many took to social media under the hashtag #smearthedocs to mock these claims – particularly those in the Sun’s article, ‘Moet medics’ – by posting ironic images satirising the newspaper’s wide-reaching assertions.

Hunt has also recently appointed one of his “most respected trust chief executives”, Salford Royal’s Sir David Dalton, to take talks forward with junior doctors on behalf of the government.

But as it stands, strike action remains in place for a 24-hour walkout tomorrow in everything but emergency care, followed by a second 48-hour strike from 26 January and a full walkout for 10 February.

(Top image  c. Andrew Matthews, PA Images)


Linda   11/01/2016 at 15:11

All hospitals are stretched my word hunt has realised NHS under pressure- so glad I was sitting down when I read that. but the claim that this is not a cut in salary is totally disingenuous. Drs take holidays - well I never what do journalists & Newspaper proprietors do? These are mostly young active people of course they take holidays one more clear demonstration of orchestrated anti Doctor campaign. When health care is privatised (lets not kid ourselves) I expect that will be the fault of the Drs too. Just over 8 months to retirement yippee.

Dr Wendy Taylor MD FRCR FRCP MBE   11/01/2016 at 15:18

I think it is utterly disgraceful that Jeremy Hunt, Boris Johnson & other Tories are trying reduce public sympathy for junior doctors by trying to claim that the strikes are in any way politically motivated or that they are due to misinformation from the BMA. I am not aware of a single hospital doctor (junior or senior) who doesn't share the concerns about the Government attempting to impose unsafe contracts. Jeremy Hunt should be replaced with someone who is willing to sit round the table & engage in meaningful discussions about the concerns raised by doctors & find a sensible compromise.

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