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We need to unite around junior doctors

Junior doctors, including GP trainees, are being attacked by the government and threatened with loss of pay and increased work. At the same time, the government is to make the NHS work seven days a week (as if it doesn’t already) and increase quality, by making doctors work smarter and harder. Meanwhile, trusts are under special measures and a majority of hospitals find their budgets overspent and therefore inadequate.

No wonder junior doctors are proposing strike action. Few people understand that most ‘junior doctors’ hold very senior and responsible posts. They are the backbone of the medical staff in hospitals and in the community.

Cracks in caring for people are not just showing, they are glaring

The NHS is being put under such strain that the cracks in caring for people are not just showing, they are glaring. This is why so many hospitals, including foundation trusts, are running a deficit, in special measures and deemed ‘Inadequate’. Even leading institutions like Barts Health and Addenbrooke’s are in desperate trouble.

Jeremy Hunt says that GP trainees will not lose money as a result of a new contract for junior doctors. Instead he wants to push on with seven day ‘normal’ working for GPs, promising more money and more GPs, but all in the future, making it clear that this amounts to no more than promises. The much-vaunted £8bn for the NHS is only due to arrive by the end of the parliament, not now.

My union, Unite, is taking a particular interest in this fight over junior doctor pay and conditions because we see this attack on doctors as a prescursor to the attack on all NHS staff covered by Agenda for Change. The government may have picked junior doctors first because they seem the weakest organised staff section. Unfortunately the government may be right, but the reaction on social media from junior doctors tells a story of angry, hard-working people who have had enough and want to get organised and fight back – for themselves, their families and for the patients they care for.

This attack on junior doctors, and through them the whole NHS professional staff, will be a key discussion on 17 October at MPU-Unite’s conference: ‘Doctors and Medical Students – our role in saving the NHS’.

Set up before the junior doctor crisis, we are bringing together organisations, doctors and medical student members who have a track record of fighting for the NHS. The junior doctor situation will be discussed in full. I hope that many junior doctors and GP trainees will attend and help to develop a strategy to push the government back and halt its plans to put unacceptable burdens on a key section of the NHS.

We need reasoned arguments and evidence, information for the public and awareness among junior doctors and GP trainees that together we can fight back. In the end, if the government refuses to retract its destructive proposals, it may come down to industrial action.

Dr Ron Singer is Chair of Doctors in Unite, the Medical Practitioners’ Union (MPU)