Striking NHS workers Striking NHS workers. Photo: Lewis Baker

As junior doctors in the NHS ballot for strike action, our correspondent tells us why

With doctors, it’s difficult as people often use the argument that we are paid enough as it is. We are not in the bracket of the lowest paid, but when you look at the maths and what we are paid by the hour in reality, taking into account the amount of extra hours, our training, and the ethical and legal responsibility, we are grossly underpaid. Looking at what we’ve been paid in the last 30 years it’s a huge pay cut in real terms. It’s not sustainable. Doctors are highly trained and are struggling to pay rent in a lot of places. It’s got to the point if you don’t put your foot down it’s not going to happen, is it? 

I don’t really know what there is left to say to show the government that we are worth higher pay other than striking. It’s been talked about endlessly with no resolution. It is a last resort, no one wants to strike, and medical people are hyper-aware of the consequences of striking, and the effects of minimum staffing. It’s not a light decision. We wouldn’t do it if we weren’t at breaking point. It’s about to pay but also about working conditions, the hospital is absolutely drowning, it’s like a bloody war zone. 

I knew I probably would vote yes to strike but it was a big decision, wanting to make sure patient care wasn’t affected. But in the end, I couldn’t see a way around it, not striking isn’t an option. 

I’ve not met a single junior doctor who isn’t striking, everyone I’ve spoken to is a member of the BMA and everyone is voting to strike. I can’t see a world in which that ballot result isn’t yes. Everyone is fed up, it’s not a new conversation topic that we are underpaid and overworked, everyone knows that. 

I think there’s an extremely unfair narrative coming primarily from the media that we should be doing it out of the kindness of our hearts because it’s a vocation and that as doctors we should feel a moral reward and so we don’t need to be paid more. Actually, at the end of the day that doesn’t pay the bills, pay for kids or food, or help you get on the property ladder. Yes, the majority of doctors are not living in poverty but we don’t have anything left over at the end of the month, etc and we have a level of training, moral, ethical, and legal responsibility in the role, so whether we are in poverty or not shouldn’t come into it. I think generally everyone’s got fed up with being told we’ve got to do it out of the kindness of our hearts.

Everyone I’ve spoken to is very supportive of the nurses and ambulance worker strikes, they know that we are not the only ones, doctors have been on strike before and this is the first time the nurses in the RCN have taken strike action. The nurses have been a group that have been completely taken for granted, they are the epitome of you should do it out of the kindness of your heart. This historical thing of it being a less skilled job is rubbish, they are a highly skilled workforce who are paid really terribly.

When it comes to the nurses and ambulance strikes, I don’t think one can make progress without the other, we all work together day in and day out, and there’s no one without the other. If nurses are undervalued and at breaking point then junior doctors are at breaking point. There is no point in progress in one of the roles without the others, we all rely on each other so heavily. We all need to win, we won’t get change if some of the workers are left behind. 

I went to the nurses’ picket line on my lunch break on the last strike day. It was amazing, the whole atmosphere in the hospital that day was really great, even the nurses that weren’t on strike, who couldn’t strike as there had to be some nurses on the ward, they were in and out, popping down to the picket. We could hear the picket line in the wards, it was lovely to hear the chants and see them fighting back. There was no divide throughout the whole hospital, everyone supported the nurses, and they were finally getting the respect they deserve, it was really good to see. 

The state of the NHS and therefore our working conditions isn’t new, everyone’s been talking about it every year for the past ten years and nothing has changed, no significant changes have been made, no real effort to improve the working conditions or increase staff numbers. Even in the last three years, the time since I’ve been working not as a student, it’s just deteriorated. We have patients sitting in A&E waiting to come up to our ward, which is a hyperacute ward, for 24 hours, not receiving their regular meds, and that has consequences, no one wants that. I don’t think we are at a point where this is a safe health system, and it would be a horrible shame to lose the NHS. 

We are supposed to be a developed country and we don’t have a functioning healthcare system. When I’m at work I make decisions based on, will this person make it alive to tomorrow? If the answer is yes, that job can wait because I have too much other stuff to do and if I don’t do that other stuff those people might not make it to tomorrow. And that’s not the type of care I want to be providing. I don’t want to be providing care that is just firefighting – life or death. I want to be providing care that is secondary, preventive, holistic, and stops people from being ill in the future. We are trained to be holistic but we don’t have the resources to be holistic doctors. This is why we will be striking.

The junior doctors’ strike ballot closes on 20 February and the BMA has said if it makes the threshold there will be 72 hours of strike action in March

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