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Junior Doctor’s Strike Is Set To Be The Longest In History

Junior doctors in England are starting yet another round of industrial action from the 3 to the 9 of January. This will be the longest strike in NHS history. Those on the picket lines are calling for an increase in pay to reverse the 26% real-terms pay cut they have been experiencing since 2008, due to pay rises being lower than inflation. There have also been calls for a new pay mechanism to prevent such salary decreases from occurring in the future. 

The basic hourly pay of a junior doctor can be as low as £14.09 in the first year of work-based training. With the cost of living so high in England, many on strike do not see this as a liveable wage. Foundation year doctors can also have student debt as high as £100,000, and must often bear the costs of exam fees and courses on top of this.

Despite these wage cuts and costs, doctors are actually in extremely high demand in England. According to the British Medical Association (BMA), “in comparison to other nations, England has a very low proportion of doctors relative to the population. The average number of doctors per 1,000 people in OECD EU nations is 3.7, but England has just 2.9. Germany, by comparison, has 4.3.” They have estimated that England needs nearly 50,000 additional FTE doctors to meet these standards. 

Such high vacancies only serve to worsen the state of the NHS with the BMA stating that “high vacancy rates create a vicious cycle: shortages produce environments of chronic stress, which increases pressure on existing staff, and in turn encourages higher turnover and absence.” The NHS is currently experiencing extreme pressures in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and what the BMA calls years of “inadequate planning and chronic under-resourcing.”  

This environment of “chronic stress” and low wages may explain these vacancies, and the general lack of attraction towards this sector of work. When we consider the skill level junior doctors must obtain through years of study and training, their dissatisfaction and strike action appear to be entirely justified. However, many feel this is coming at the worst possible time for the NHS, with the most severe winter pressures expected to hit this week. 

The last junior doctor strike before Christmas lasted a total of three days and resulted in nearly 90,000 appointments and operations being postponed. An entire year of industrial action by NHS staff has already cost £2bn and disrupted 1.2m planned appointments. Yet, with so many vacancies and clearly very severe pressures on the service, is it truly feasible to continue to hold off on paying junior doctors a fair wage in the long term? 

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Tags: #NHS #strike #JuniorDoctors


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