Whipps Cross junior doctors start five day strike action

The doctors, who are striking until Tuesday, are calling for a 35% pay rise to make up for 15 years of below-inflation wage increases, reports Marco Marcelline

Striking junior doctors and members of the public at the picket line today outside Whipps Cross. Credit: Marco Marcelline

Junior doctors at Whipps Cross participated in the national British Medical Association junior doctor strike today in a bid to get their pay raised by 35%. 

The BMA says the pay rise, if accepted, would return junior doctor salaries to the level they were at in 2008, as increases in pay since then have been eroded by inflation.

The BMA has said the government offered junior doctors “an insulting and well below inflation pay rise of 2%”. Talks between the government, unions and the NHS over pay increases have been ongoing for several months. 

Striking junior doctors at Whipps Cross told the Echo that increasing workloads, long hours, soaring inflation and under-staffing had affected morale among NHS workers and had pushed them to strike. The five day strike is the longest one taken by junior doctors yet.

About 15 to 20 junior doctors joined the picket line on Whipps Cross Road, outside the main hospital entrance. They stood from 8am until 11am. 

Junior doctors will strike today through to Monday and will return to wards on Tuesday. 

Sophie, a Whipps Cross junior doctor who joined in 2019, said that despite “loving [her] job”, said she was out to support her colleagues who are “overworked” especially at A&E. 

Sophie said: “I do not have a lot of confidence in our current government to be proactive in making offers and communicating that effectively.”

Alex, a foundation trainee doctor at the Waltham Forest hospital said he was typically working 60 hours a week, and doing seven night shifts every fortnight. 

Bureaucracy levels and the fact that junior doctors were forced to fill in staffing gaps and do work for two people for the same pay had contributed to poor morale, Alex said, and was a further reason why junior doctors were on strike today.

Public support for the striking junior doctors was evident as cars, buses, and vans continuously honked in support as they drove past. Representatives from the Leyton & Wanstead Cost of Living Campaign and Trans Worker Solidarity, a group of transgender and nonbinary people organising together to build links of solidarity with workers in struggle, also joined. 

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Sophie said she knew junior doctors who had left the UK to work in Australia where annual leave is more easily given because staffing levels are higher. According to the World Bank, Australia has 4.1 doctors per 1,000 patients; the UK has 3 doctors for every 1,000 patients.

Alex said roughly two-thirds of his cohort had decided not to go straight into speciality training after their foundation years. Some, who opted for an “F3” year have decided to work abroad, or take a gap year before deciding what to do next. 

A Guardian report last year revealed that almost half of junior doctors who completed their training programme opted to leave the NHS, reflecting a rising trend of junior doctors who decide the grass is greener elsewhere. 

Meanwhile, NHS consultants are set to strike on Thursday and Friday next week. Dr Mike Henley, deputy chair of the BMA consultants’ committee told the Observer newspaper last week that consultants would call off the strike if Westminster offers an above inflation 12.4% pay increase.  

In another potential trade union action, over 1,000 NHS workers represented by Unite union at Barts Health NHS Trust (which includes Whipps Cross) began voting on industrial action on Tuesday (11th July) in a dispute over low pay and understaffing.

The workers include cleaners, caterers, porters, security guards, ward hosts and domestic staff all previously employed by Serco who had transferred to the NHS after the 31st of March this year. Barts Health Trust has refused to pay them a £1,655 lump sum which is part of the NHS pay deal.

Unite general secretary, Sharon Graham said: “Over 1000 workers who won their rights to be NHS workers are now fighting against low pay and understaffing at Barts. They’re employed by the NHS now so they should be paid the lump sum like everybody else.

“The workers have a proud history of fighting for fairness and winning. Unite will not accept the lowest paid workers at the Trust being short changed.”

A survey of over 3,000 Unite members, working in a multitude of roles throughout the NHS in England, revealed that 48 per cent said that in the past year staffing levels in their area regularly reached a point where “patient care has been compromised and unsafe”.

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