Junior doctors in the BMA have rejected the government's offer on the new contract by 58%. Dr Mona Kamal and Dr Aislinn Macklin-Doherty argue that further strike action is now necessary.
On the day that teachers took industrial action over cuts to funding and in defence state education, it was announced that junior doctors had voted to reject the government’s final offer on their new contract.
Despite the BMA's open endorsement of the new deal and concerns that its rejection may result in Jeremy Hunt reverting to threats of imposition, there are terms in the contract that clearly remain unacceptable. It is a contract, which fails to address understaffing, fails to provide adequate protection against working unsafe hours and which will enshrine a gender pay gap within the profession. Crucially it is a “cost-neutral” contract aiming to stretch five days worth of resources over seven by re-classifying weekends as part of the normal working week and paying doctors less for working longer anti-social hours.
A rejection of this contract is a rejection of this government’s objective of “cost-neutrality” and of the austerity agenda that is driving it. Specifically it is a rejection of the idea that the health service, which is already in the worst financial crisis in its history due to deliberate underfunding, could be stretched further with no extra investment and no extra staff, unacceptably putting patient safety at risk.
The tide is turning against austerity however- a failed policy which has caused misery to millions of the poorest and most vulnerable in this country. The Tory government that has championed it is now also weak and fragmented following its failed gamble over the EU referendum. Junior doctors however remain resolute, public support has grown even with escalating strike action (in recognition of the fact we are fighting in defence of the NHS) and crucially the 98% mandate for industrial action remains in place.
The priority must be the defence of our health service for the interests of society as a whole. This means an adequately staffed and funded NHS that puts decent, safe and equitable service provision at the centre of fresh contract negotiations for doctors. A new contract is needed that addresses the very real challenges of rota gaps and understaffing, that provides whistle-blowing protection for doctors who raise safety concerns, that recognises hard-won weekend pay entitlements, that does not discriminate against women and above all omits the pre-condition of "cost-neutrality". Junior doctors won a resounding mandate for full strike action with the purpose of achieving these aims and will need to make use of it again if the threat of imposition returns.