The junior doctors' strike: A message of solidarity from the SoR

Junior doctors in the NHS have begun six days of strike action in protest over pay, sparking messages of support from the SoR

Published: 03 January 2024 Government & NHS

The SoR has shared its solidarity with the the junior doctors of the NHS, who have gone on strike seeking a 35 per cent pay rise.

Juniors doctors are seeking full pay restoration after the real terms value of medics’ pay fell by 26 per cent since 2008-09.

This six-day strike, which started on Wednesday 3 January, will be the longest in the NHS’ history. 

Aside from pay restoration, the British Medical Association is also seeking agreement on a mechanism with the government to prevent any future decline in salaries against the cost of living and inflation, and to reform the Doctors' and Dentists' Review Body process so pay increases can be recommended independently and fairly, to safeguard the recruitment and retention of junior doctors.

'Start making different and better choices'

The SoR has, in response to the strike, provided a strong message of support for the BMA and its efforts to seek improved pay and conditions.

Dean Rogers, executive director of industrial strategy and member relations, said: “During 2023, we co-ordinated action of our own and so understand their frustration at the government’s on-going failure to seriously engage with them to negotiate a sustainable resolution to the dispute. The onus must be on government to engage in a serious and meaningful way to resolve the dispute.

“There are no easy or simple solutions to the junior doctor’s dispute. More money for one group can’t come at the expense of everyone else, when the NHS has a workforce crisis across all of its professions, including radiography. There needs to be a strategic long-term approach to solving a problem that has been more than a decade in the making. 

“However, the government seems to be desperately trying to avoid the facts and any responsibility for the crisis. Their desperate efforts to portray the dispute as being about greedy professionals looking to harm patients has failed to register with the public or any of the other NHS professions. 

“These disputes are not the cause of waiting lists and unnecessary deaths – they are prompted by the under-staffing and under-investment that has driven dedicated professionals to the point of striking, as much for patients and the NHS as for themselves.

“The threat of wider industrial action across other NHS professions in 2024 remains real. If the government chooses to stay on the same pathway as 2023, with another short-term low pay offer, other union members and professions will consider further industrial action. 

“But there is also an alternative pathway open – one that recognises the need to address the workforce crisis and find the money needed to save the NHS. Our manifesto for a world-class health service, which we are consulting on currently prior to publication next month, signposts a possible new direction. 

“The workforce crisis and the ongoing strikes are the result of political choices. Government need to start making different and better choices for NHS patients and professionals.”

'Stand proudly and in solidarity with the junior doctors'

Thomas Welton, SoR president elect, said: “We have reached 2024 and industrial action seems to be a normality now in the NHS. I wanted to get something clear, taking strike action is always the last resort and is always due to a fundamental failure of standards. 

“Whatever you may read in the printed news or social media, waiting lists were already a problem, staff were already under great strain and our nation’s health was already worsening. Strikes haven’t caused this - they are because of this. 

“Strikers will often have fingers pointed at them, but fingers should be pointed toward [health secretary] Victoria Atkins and the government stance on supporting it’s workforce. Starting 2024, I and the SoR stand so proudly in solidarity with our junior doctors who once again find a government seemingly deaf to the concerns that are being raised. 

“They are not greedy, they are not delusional, they are highly skilled professionals that are seeing emotional trauma due to chronic retention and recruitment issues. Enough is enough and it is time to change the course of history and stand for what is right. A better health service starts with the staff that run it and the public in need deserve better.

“2024 is certainly set to be a turbulent year including a probable general election. Misinformation, political spin, and division is almost certainly going to ramp up around the NHS as it is kicked about, now is the time to be in a union, now is the time to take a stand for what is right and show the UK just how vital improvement is needed in our failed NHS services.”

'Political deadlock'

Last month, the SoR held 'positive talks' with England's new health minister, Andrew Stephenson MP.

On Tuesday, 19 December, senior SoR officials Dean Rogers and Leandre Archer met with Mr Stephenson to discuss the ongoing pay dispute over pay and the radiography workforce crisis. 

The SoR said that while the talks did not resolve the dispute between the Society and the Department of Health and Social Care, the minister acknowledged the challenging working conditions for radiographers, and agreed to further talks in early 2024. 

In Northern Ireland, the SoR announced its own strike action, due to take place on 18 January, in hopes of breaking “political deadlock” in NI that has arisen over the dispute with the government around the pay discrepency between radiographers in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. 

The day in January will be a day of ‘Generalised Day of Action’ across the public sector, including health, education, civil service and others.

Radiographers in Northern Ireland are the lowest paid in the UK. In Scotland, radiographers are now paid 12 per cent more than in Northern Ireland. 

(Image: Manchester Rally, via Breige Cobane)