Junior Doctors on Strike
Junior Doctors continue to plan strikes throughout June after demands for a pay rise in the NHS are not met adequately by the UK government. PETER NICHOLLS/Reuters

Junior doctors plan to strike again between Wednesday 14th June and Saturday 17th June, after the government fail to meet any credible demands towards their pay rise. The UK's healthcare sector has experienced a recurring series of strikes initiated by junior doctors and medical practitioners who have completed their medical degrees but are still in training within specific specialities.

These strikes have garnered significant public attention, shedding light on the challenges faced by these healthcare professionals and the implications for patient care. However, despite the increased scrutiny towards the pay of junior doctors, the government has again failed to deliver the necessary reforms and improvements to address their concerns.

The ongoing lack of progress in negotiations between the government and junior doctors' representatives has led to growing frustration within the medical community. This discontent stems from the increasing workload, long working hours and inadequate compensation that junior doctors face, which ultimately affects the quality of patient care.

This is evident in statistics provided by The British Medical Association (BMA), with them suggesting that the number of GP referrals to consultant-led outpatient services that were unsuccessful due to a lack of available slots increased by 87 per cent from 238,859 in February 2020 to 401,115 in November 2021.

The union who represents doctors and medical students laid out their campaign aims in April to start the process to tackle these pressing issues.

The BMA stated that "Junior doctors in the NHS in England are taking strike action in 2023 to achieve full pay restoration" so they can "reverse the steep decline in pay faced by junior doctors" which started as far back as 2008-2009.

Junior doctors are aiming to find a "mechanism with the Government to prevent any future declines against the cost of living and inflation," with hopes to "reform the DDRB (Doctors' and Dentists' Review Body) process so pay increases can be recommended independently and fairly to safeguard the recruitment and retention of junior doctors."

After these demands, the union continued to push doctors and medical students to strike, leading on to widespread support and mobilisation among junior doctors and medical students. The union has rallied its members, emphasising the importance of collective action to bring about meaningful change.

The strikes initially began in 2016 after doctors in the United Kingdom went on strike due to a dispute over proposed changes to their employment contracts that was proposed by then Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt.

These strikes were primarily focused on a new contract for junior doctors, which would have altered their working conditions and pay structures, with a shocking and overwhelming 98 per cent of junior doctors voting in favour of the strikes in a BMA ballot.

The BMA argued that the contract would result in unsafe working conditions, reduced pay for unsocial hours, and compromised patient safety. The strikes involved junior doctors providing only emergency care, leading to the postponement of routine appointments and non-urgent procedures. Eventually, a revised contract was agreed upon between the BMA and the government, ending the strikes, although the issue remained controversial.

Thus, in the present, the strikes scheduled between Wednesday 14th June and Saturday 17th June this month serve as a strong statement of protest against the government's failure to meet the credible demands put forth by junior doctors. These strikes are not taken lightly, as they will inevitably disrupt healthcare services and place additional strain on an already overwhelmed healthcare system.

The strikes scheduled for the specified dates in June will undoubtedly disrupt healthcare services and place additional strain on an already stretched workforce. However, the commitment shown by junior doctors and medical students to fight for their rights and the future of the NHS cannot be underestimated.

The government's response and what must be done to resolve this

After initial strikes in April last year, the government had managed to seek little progress with health unions, materialising in an offer for a 5 per cent pay rise, with marginalised groups such as workers on minimum wage seeing a pay rise to a minimum of £11.45 an hour.

The British Medical Association however in response to response to the Government's paltry 5 per cent pay increase offer said that they "are calling for a full 72-hour walk out of all junior doctors in England. Junior doctors deserve full pay restoration now – and the goal of this third round of industrial action is to force the Government to put forward a credible offer."

They advised that all junior doctors should "not attend any shifts starting after 6:59 a.m. on 14 June. You can then attend any shifts starting from 7 a.m. on 17 June." Demonstrating their commitment towards the cause, with no signs of slowing down without first coming to a resolution they see fit to their demands.

It is crucial for the government to recognise the validity of the concerns raised and to engage in meaningful dialogue with junior doctors and their representatives to find a fair and equitable solution that addresses their legitimate grievances.

Ignoring these issues and failing to address the demands of junior doctors only further jeopardises the healthcare sector's ability to attract and retain skilled professionals, ultimately impacting the quality of patient care as seen after the failure to deal with initial strikes in 2016.

The recurring strikes by junior doctors highlight the urgent need for the government to take immediate action and meet their credible demands regarding pay and working conditions. The British Medical Association's campaign aims clearly highlight the urgent need for fair pay restoration, protection against future declines in pay, and a reform of the DDRB process to ensure independent and fair recommendations for pay increases.

The healthcare sector depends on the dedication and expertise of junior doctors, and it is imperative that their contributions are compensated. The government must prioritise the resolution of this issue to ensure the continued delivery of healthcare services.