Junior doctors at the UK’s National Health Service, NHS, has commenced a 96-hour strike.
The Strike Action which began on Tuesday April 11, is described by the UK government as “most disruptive” healthcare strike yet. It is the latest installment in a season of industrial action, during which strikes by medical personnel have grown progressively bigger.
The British Medical Association, (BMA), the Union representing doctors, argues that pay rises over the last 15 years have not kept pace with inflation, and have in fact amounted to a pay decrease of 25 per cent from the salaries offered in 2008-09. The BMA has framed its demand of a 35 per cent raise as a “pay restoration” to align salaries to the level of the previous decade.
Junior doctors have medical degrees but are considered to be in training. A first-year junior doctor working a 40-hour week earns an annual salary of £29,384 ($36,518), or £14.09 per hour ($17.41). A junior doctor with six to eight years of experience earns £28 per hour.
Roughly half the NHS’s healthcare workers will not be at work this this week, including strikers as well as staff on leave for the Easter holiday. The NHS estimates that the strike will result in 250,000 delayed appointments and that they cannot guarantee patient safety during the walkout. Hospitals plan to prioritize emergency services, maternity care, and critical care.
For now, the BMA says the government has refused to negotiate, while the government has called the BMA’s starting position of a 35% pay raise “unreasonable.”
The UK’s policy of fiscal austerity, which began in 2010, has gutted the NHS, resulting in longer wait times, plummeting patient satisfaction, worse outcomes, and a growing workforce crisis, with fewer staff working in deteriorating conditions. This chronic underfunding combined with rising inflation, has driven a rash of strikes across the NHS.
It has been a restive few months for the UK’s health service. Roughly 100,000 nurses went on strike last December, and then again in February, along with ambulance staff and physiotherapists, in the largest strike of the NHS’s 75-year history. Last month, junior doctors walked out during a three-day strike, which forced an estimated 175,000 procedures and appointments to be canceled.
Following these strikes, the UK offered nurses a one-time payment of at least £1,655 and a 5 per cent pay rise, below both the 14% unions had demanded and the UK’s inflation rate, which hovers around 10 per cent.
Nurses have not yet accepted the offer.
Aside from healthcare, workers in other public services have struck or threatened to strike; these have included teachers, garbage collectors, lawyers, postal workers, border officers, and rail workers. This season’s spike in walkouts is the UK’s highest in years, but it remains a fraction of the industrial action seen in previous decades.