Five things we learned from the junior doctor strike in the East Midlands

Striking junior doctors outside the Chesterfield Royal Hospital
Striking junior doctors outside the Chesterfield Royal Hospital

Hours after the first junior doctor strike in 40 years came to an end, major players on both sides of the contract dispute have publicly stated their desire to avoid further industrial action.

A spokesman for the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) has announced that talks between the Government and the British Medical Association (BMA) would resume on Thursday at 10am, continuing on Friday.

It comes after thousands of juniors nationwide returned to work this morning after a 24-hour period of reduced ‘emergency care only’ staffing that ended at 8am following the cancellation of 4,000 planned operations nationwide.

It appears that there is still a gap between the stances of both sides but, following the disruption of strike day one, a resolution has become even more of a priority.

Strike action comes amid a dispute over the reform of junior doctor contracts. The Government’s last offer includes an 11 per cent basic pay rise. But this is offset by plans to cut the number of hours on a weekend for which juniors can claim extra pay for unsocial hours.

he BMA argues that the proposed changes make the contract “unsafe and unfair” on both doctors and patients as it would also see working hour safeguards scrapped. The Government says its changes are necessary in its aim for a “truly seven-day NHS” and claims that only one per cent of doctors would lose pay.

Five things we learned from the first junior doctor strike:

1. Time is of the essence - The next scheduled strike, a 48-hour period of reduced ‘emergency care only’ staffing from January 26 at 8am, is less than a fortnight away. It is double the length of the first strike, so such issues with capacity are likely to be amplified next time around. If progress in negotiations isn’t made by then, a nine-hour full walk-out of tens of thousands of junior doctors in England could take place on February 10, which will take the amount of pressure on hospitals to a whole new level. The Government and the BMA are well aware of the serious impact a full strike could have.

2. This is no ordinary dispute - The BMA estimated that there were 150 pickets staged over the junior doctor contract dispute in England yesterday, with dozens organised across the East Midlands as every major hospital in the region was surrounded by placard-waving clinicians.

3. Junior doctors are not like striking factory workers - In a nutshell, they have the potential to bring the health service to its knees. In the short-term they are not easy to replace, unless senior consultants are prepared to regularly roll up their sleeves and pick up their duties. In the long-term they are not easy to replace. They are highly sought after overseas - typically places with lots of sunshine and beaches - which offer them more money for fewer hours. Fewer people are also applying for medical school, presumably because they have heard the rumours that junior doctors in England are getting a raw deal. Basically, they are not very easy to replace.

4. Neither side looks like budging - Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt remains defiant in his pursuit of a “truly seven-day NHS”. Mr Hunt claimed last week that before negotiations broke down 15 of 16 issues outlined as concerns by the BMA had been resolved but that summary has been disputed by union chiefs. BMA council chairman Dr Mark Porter claims there are still “some serious issues about patient safety and recognition of junior doctors’ contributions that need to be sorted” which he says the Government is still refusing to acknowledge.

5. Elusive Health Secretary - Jeremy Hunt appeared untypically camera-shy yesterday, refusing all interviews and instead offering up a senior official from the NHS England to field questions from the press.