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UK: Junior Doctors Wage Long Struggle in Face of Sunak’s Arrogance

Junior doctors continue their struggle for full pay restoration as Rishi Sunak’s government once again fails to come up with a credible offer

Junior doctors in England have embarked on the longest strike in the history of the National Health Service (NHS) following the government’s failure, once again, to propose an acceptable pathway for pay restoration. The strike is expected to last from January 3 to January 9.

Junior doctors, a sizable group inside the UK’s health workforce, estimate a salary loss of up to 26% since 2008. They demand restoration that accounts for inflation and addresses previous pay cuts over a time-frame to be negotiated with the government.

In the lead-up to this week’s industrial action, government officials and the corporate press criticized junior doctors, accusing them of jeopardizing patient safety. However, as highlighted by Vivek Trivedi, British Medical Association (BMA) junior doctors committee co-chair, in a December 2023 interview, there is very little data correlating the strike with the growing number of elective procedure postponements in the NHS. The waiting lists crisis, according to health activists and junior doctors, is a symptom of a deeper issue arising from years of undermining the public health system and its staff.

Read more: Junior doctors’ strike in the UK strike for pay restoration

Ever since another round of negotiations with the government was interrupted at the beginning of December 2023, Trivedi and his co-chair peer Rob Laurenson have repeated that junior doctors are more than happy to resume talks as soon as the government approaches them with a credible offer. Health secretary Victoria Atkins, however, is unwilling to do so until the strikes are called off, bringing the situation to a standstill.

Despite allegations of irresponsibility, the junior doctors’ strike garners support from patients and peers, including consultants temporarily taking on tasks usually performed by junior doctors. Last year, a new record was set with the number of days of health workers’ on strike in the United Kingdom, yet public opinion polls continue to show positive attitudes towards them. An end-of-the-year poll has shown that 49% of those surveyed saw health staff in a positive light. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, on the other hand, enjoyed the support of only 4% of those surveyed.

“We’d much rather be at work but the fact of the matter is, with year-on-year pay cuts, the Government’s just driving doctors away,” Laurenson told the press on the morning of December 3.



Doctors, as well as other health workers, have been leaving the NHS for jobs abroad, where the conditions are more acceptable. Early career junior doctors in England are earning approximately £15 per hour (about USD 19), while trying to juggle extensive student debt and the cost of living crisis. “All we are asking is for a doctor who is in their first year to be paid £20 per hour,” one of the doctors told journalists during a picket in Liverpool.

“Conditions are bad because people are leaving,” he told Radio City Times. They are leaving, he continued, “because the pay is better elsewhere. When Australia pays you double the salary, who can begrudge them?”

Staff discontent with salaries is reflected in NHS England’s 2022 staff survey, showing a decline in satisfaction to 26%, down from 33% in 2021 and 36% in 2018. Nurses and midwives expressed the most discontent (13% satisfaction), while medical and dental workers reported 37% satisfaction but also increased exhaustion and burnout.

With the government unwilling to engage in comprehensive discussions on strengthening the NHS, including improved working conditions, actions are likely to persist not only for junior doctors but also for other health workers awaiting confirmation of offers tentatively accepted by their trade unions.

People’s Health Dispatch is a fortnightly bulletin published by the People’s Health Movement and Peoples Dispatch. For more articles and to subscribe to People’s Health Dispatch, click here.

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