Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has misrepresented the case of junior doctors who went on strike this week portraying them as pursuing increased pay and pretending that he is offering an improved contract.
No workforce rejects a package by 98 per cent (as junior doctors did in a vote last November) unless there are serious problems with it. One of the main objections concerns how much of the week should be classed as a junior doctor’s normal working hours, and thus attract only basic pay. Currently, junior doctors – anyone below the level of consultant – are paid extra for working after 7pm on a weekday and at any point over the weekend. Under Hunt’s contract extra pay would not apply until after 10pm on weekdays and 7pm on Saturdays. He has proposed an 11% rise in basic pay to compensate for this loss of overtime, but the BMA insists juniors would still be up to 30% worse off.
Hunt has few political allies but Ukip leader Nigel Farage opposed the junior doctors’ action, calling some of them “extremely militant” and “on the way to being to some of the best-paid members of society.”
Farage has a background as a City metals trader and currently rides First Class on the Euro gravy train he claims to despise.
Pat Harrington, general secretary of Solidarity, commented: "Hunt and Farage will not convince the public that they care more about the NHS than junior doctors. Nor will the public believe that junior doctors are wild-eyed fanatics who are greedy for more money. The public know that junior doctors are caring professionals who simply want a fair deal."
The strike took place only in England. The Labour government in Cardiff and its SNP counterpart in Edinburgh have taken a refreshingly independent and co-operative approach.
Welsh Health Secretary Mark Drakeford told junior doctors in November that “the approach we take in Wales is always one of discussion, negotiation and agreement.”
His Scottish equivalent Shona Robison emphasised the need to “work in partnership” to improve services, pledging that “we will not be seeking to impose any new arrangements in Scotland.”
Doctors are planning a similar strike later this month and a third in February unless talks can resolve the dispute.