UK doctors stage historic walkout, raising concerns for patient safety
Hospital doctors in England initiated the largest walkout ever witnessed in the state-funded National Health Service (NHS) on Thursday, sparking fears regarding the safety of patients.
The five-day stoppage, driven by concerns over pay and staff retention, is the culmination of eight months of industrial action across the NHS, which is already grappling with a massive backlog caused by the ongoing pandemic.
Expressing their frustration, 27-year-old junior doctor Arjan Sing, standing on a picket line outside London’s University College Hospital, stated, “The NHS has been relying on goodwill, but now we have reached the point of no return.” Sing added that many of his colleagues were contemplating leaving the country for nations that prioritize the well-being of their doctors.
Over the past few months, nurses, ambulance staff, and other medical workers have also joined picket lines, further exacerbating the strain on patient appointments.
The strike by junior doctors, referring to those below the consultant level, will continue until 7:00 am (0600 GMT) on Tuesday.
This walkout takes place amid a backdrop of widespread strikes across various sectors in the UK over the past year, as the country grapples with a debilitating cost-of-living crisis, affecting professions ranging from train drivers to lawyers.
Following the junior doctors’ strike, senior hospital doctors, known as consultants, in England are scheduled to begin a 48-hour strike on July 20, with radiographers joining in from July 25.
The bitter dispute between junior doctors and the government revolves around the demand to restore pay levels to those of 2008-9, which the government argues would result in an average pay increase of around 35 percent.
The British Medical Association’s Junior Doctors Committee claims that doctors have effectively suffered a 26-percent pay cut in real terms over the past 15 years, as their salaries have failed to keep pace with soaring inflation.
The government contends that retroactively adjusting their pay to account for inflation since 2008 would be prohibitively expensive. Instead, it has offered an additional five percent increase as it grapples with efforts to curb inflation.
“Today marks the start of the longest single walkout by doctors in the NHS’s history, but this is not a record that needs to be written in the history books,” stated BMA leaders Robert Laurenson and Vivek Trivedi. They emphasized that the strike could be called off immediately if the UK government follows the example set by the Scottish government, which dropped the precondition of not engaging in talks during strike announcements and produced a credible offer that resonates with the doctors involved.
Previous stoppages in June and April led to significant disruptions, with hundreds of thousands of hospital appointments and operations being rescheduled.
“The absolute inflexibility demonstrated by the UK government today is perplexing, frustrating, and ultimately detrimental to those hoping to reduce waiting lists and increase NHS staffing numbers,” Laurenson and Trivedi concluded.
According to the BMA, approximately seven million people were awaiting treatment in April, setting a new record, with nearly three million individuals waiting for more than 18 months.