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Impact Interviews BMA Members On The Picket Line

Leacsaidh MacDonald Marlow

On the morning of Monday 2nd October, junior doctors, medical sudents, and consultants joined the British Medical Association (BMA) picket line at the Derby Road entrance to Queen’s Medical Centre. Impact‘s News team headed down to interview members of the Union who were on strike. 

The UK has seen multiple junior doctors and nurses striking over the past year, but this was the first time they were joined in their strike action by consultants.

Striking for full pay restoration

In conversation with two of Nottingham’s striking doctors, Tal and Melissa, Impact‘s Leacsaidh MacDonald Marlow reports on their reasons for taking industrial action last week.

The BMA members are striking for full pay restoration to pre-austerity rates, having suffered a 26% pay decrease over the last fifteen years.

Alongside this, many National Health Service (NHS) workers are on strike to speak out against the current working conditions in the NHS, including lack of funding, understaffing issues, and general lack of care for doctors and NHS workers. There have been record cases of mental health issues and suicide in NHS workers. 

Melissa conveyed her worry that those studying medicine currently, or considering it as a career path, are being massively deterred due to the working conditions within UK hospitals, and the lack of willingness she says the government are showing to restore doctors’ pay.

No more of a staffing crisis when she is on strike than when she is not- [Melissa- a member on strike]

Furthermore, many medical students and junior doctors are heavily considering overseas work, e.g. in Canada or Australia, as a much more viable and appealing option, with 40% saying they would leave the NHS immediately upon finding another job. 

“The NHS staffing crisis cannot be resolved without wholesale reform of the pay review process.” – BMA

Melissa apologised to those who have missed long-standing appointments due to NHS strikes, but explains that there is no more of a staffing crisis when she is on strike than when she is not; she states that the NHS is chronically understaffed and patients’ lives are put at risk everyday because of this, an issue on which striking junior doctors do not have an effect.

The government claims that junior doctors’ demand for full pay restoration (a pay ‘rise’ of ~35%) is unreasonable.

Both Melissa and Tal argued that their demands as striking doctors are not unreasonable at all; “we are only asking for our pay to be returned to what it was pre-austerity”.

“We should quite simply privatise the NHS” [Ted Grainger]

Prior to pay cuts, junior doctors would have earned ~£20 an hour, where now they are earning just over £14 an hour, and they maintain that this hourly rate is not fair, given the amount of work that a junior doctor is responsible for.

Ted Grainger, president of the University of Nottingham’s Conservative Association, says “I’m sorry to hear that doctors in this country do not feel they are being paid enough.

They will, however, be glad to hear that I have a perfect proposal which will be sure to increase their pay. We should quite simply privatise the NHS and let the market decide (as it would) to value their abilities highly. I look forward to seeing those striking embracing my proposal fully.”

The government has announced 5-7% pay increases for public sector workers

In 2019, the multi-year deal agreed by the Conservative government guaranteed junior doctors a pay rise of 2% each year over the course of four years, an increase which would still hold their hourly pay far from 2008/9 levels. 

Following recent strike action, the government has announced 5-7% pay increases for public sector workers, under advice from pay review bodies.

However, Tal said that junior doctors will “not accept any pay rise less than inflation”, and, personally, he believes full pay should be restored.

Melissa used the analogy of having 25% of your belongings stolen: “are you going to accept that somebody gives you back only a little bit of that? No.”

The government argues that restoring pay […] will have a negative impact on inflation

She went on to argue that doctors deserve to be returned to full pre-austerity pay, “if not higher to account for recent issues such as the Covid pandemic”, which she said have put massive extra stress on healthcare professionals.

The government argues that restoring pay to doctors, alongside other public sector workers, will have a negative impact on inflation.

“If the government raises public sector pay then that increases demand in the economy at a time when the Bank of England is desperately trying to reduce demand,” says Ben Zaranko, Institute for Fiscal Studies.

However, he intimates that the effect woud not be big, with a 6% pay rise for all public sector workers covered by pay review bodies, costing only 0.2% of the UK’s economy.

“End “reckless private outsourcing”” [Ben Duffy]

Representatives from the University of Nottingham’s Labour Students joined the picket line to show support.

Ben Duffy says that NHS workers are “deservingly fighting for fair pay and fair conditions” and that they have “had enough”, adding that a Labour government’s best change regarding NHS policy would be to end “reckless private outsourcing” which has resulted in a “chronically underfunded” NHS.

Currently, the national Labour Party have only promised to enter into negotiations with doctors, but have not committed to a specific pay rise. 

Doctors at the picket line expressed their support for other public sector workers who are striking; they commented that public sector workers “have suffered disproportionately” due to pay cuts in the last fifteen years and the junior doctors that we spoke to made clear the importance of standing in solidarity with other workers who wish to have their pay restored.

The BMA have conveyed that in order to fix the issues currently being faced by the NHS, the government must “engage and address doctors’ concerns”. 

Leacsaidh MacDonald Marlow

Featured image courtesy of Luis Melendez via Unsplash. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image.

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