Doctors In England Launch New Strike Ahead Of Election

Junior hospital physicians in England began a five-day strike on Thursday, just one week before a general election in which the state of the publicly financed National Health Service (NHS) is a prominent issue.

It follows over a dozen such demonstrations by doctors below the specialist and consultant levels in the last 18 months.

The NHS is dealing with a major backlog caused by the Covid-19 outbreak.

A recent poll found that less than a quarter of Britons were satisfied with the NHS, a record low.

In addition to delays in procedures and cancer treatment, the public faces extended wait times to visit a doctor at their local surgery.

In the midst of a cost-of-living crisis, doctors have requested a “pay restoration” of 35 percent as a starting point.

They have stated that they will withdraw the action if Conservative Prime Minister Rishi Sunak comes to the table with a serious pledge to enhance their salaries.

Shivram Sharma, a young doctor working in London, told AFP that he and his colleagues were demonstrating because they had been in conflict with the government for 20 months. “We have yet to receive a credible offer.”

He added: “Doctors are tired. We’re frustrated but we’re ultimately scared… We’ve seen the quality of care in this country decline.”

Pay restoration

Sharma claimed that patients were being shortchanged and forced to wait longer for treatment, particularly in accident and emergency departments, and that doctors were quitting the profession.

“We need to keep doctors here and stop them from leaving because of the poor working conditions and low pay,” he stated on a picket line outside Saint Thomas’ Hospital in central London.

“Until we deal with that, the waiting list will continue to go up (and) wards will continue to remain understaffed.”

The junior doctors’ main demand is for a pay hike from £15 (just under $19) to £20 per hour.

Sumi Manirajan, deputy chair of the British Medical Association’s Junior Doctor Committee, stated that earnings had not kept up with inflation in the last 15 years, forcing doctors to pay thousands of pounds out of pocket for indemnity costs, courses, and exams.

Manirajan stated that the government had already made a number of public spending commitments for the next general election on July 4.

“Rishi Sunak has committed to spending £2.5 billion on national (military or civic) services. It would cost £1 billion to compensate the doctors,” she explained.

She claimed that the government had already “wasted three billion pounds fighting us”.

“So, the money is there. It’s a political decision about where they spend it.”

The walkout will last until Tuesday, two days before the general election, which the main opposition Labour Party is likely to win.

Wes Streeting, Labour’s health spokesman, has stated that any Labour administration would not satisfy the 35% requirement, but that there is “space for a discussion”.

Workers from all sectors of the economy, including teachers and train drivers, staged walkouts in 2023 due to decades-high inflation.

Many of the remaining wage disputes have been handled by the government, quasi-public entities, and private sector enterprises. However, some still stand out, such as the junior doctors.

Sunak’s government has stated that the physicians’ requests are unaffordable due to tight public funds.

It accused the strike organizers of being politically motivated.

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