The NHS is a national gem and one of the UK’s few institutions to enjoy widespread unchallenged public support. But it is an institution in crisis, with falling standards of care meeting unique healthcare challenges, bureaucratic issues and underfunding. Today, junior doctors are the latest to voice their displeasure, continuing their programme of strikes via the BMA.
Why Are Junior Doctors Striking?
The key motivation behind the junior doctors’ strike is pay – more specifically, pay parity. Junior doctors are continuing to engage in strike action in hopes of winning a 35% pay rise – which would bring their pay levels in line with junior doctor salaries before the economic crash of 2008.
As it stands, junior doctors are paid £14 per hour – a wage that has been compared unfavourably to some ‘low-skilled’ roles in hospitality and retail, particularly when large portions of that minimum wage are earmarked for costly tuition and training fees.
The Direct Impacts of Strike Action
Much of the talk surrounding the strikes has been about the unintentional impacts of strike action. With junior doctors constituting a majority of the trained healthcare workforce, the strikes are having undeniable consequences for citizens attempting to access care.
Appointments are being cancelled and re-arranged en masse, increasing pain and discomfort for many awaiting consultation or treatment. Some social media outlets have found statistics that suggest mortality rates more than tripled following strike action, raising questions as to the sustainability of the industrial dispute.
What are the Knock-On Effects?
While the immediate impacts are potentially profound in scope, there are longer-term knock-on impacts that could affect the shape of healthcare for many citizens. For example, the likelihood of a primary care appointment becoming an NHS medical negligence claim may increase significantly, whether through newer trainee practitioners making mistakes or fully-qualified doctors being stretched beyond their natural capacity.
However, while there are tangible statistics reflecting the increased risks posed by junior doctor strikes, the cause for the strikes goes beyond the base conflict surrounding pay. Junior doctors are acutely aware of the risk factors brought on by the strikes and shouldering that risk asserting better long-term conditions for patients and staff. Excess deaths and medical negligence are already untenably high in the NHS, and a result of systemic overstretching and underfunding – something that pays parity would go some way to solving.
An End in Sight?
With some commentators unwilling to look past the short-term consequences of strike action, a leading question for many media outlets is whether the strike action will end soon or drag on for some time. Many politicians from both sides of the aisle have clarified their opinions on the strikes, believing that 35% is too much and unreasonable for talks to begin. Junior doctors show little sign of budging, indicating a long and drawn-out season of strikes.