Four thousand junior doctors have joined the BMA in the last two weeks as the ballot for industrial action gathers momentum and leaders call for a high turnout to strengthen their negotiating position.
Rob Laurenson and Vivek Trivedi, co-chairs of the association’s junior doctors committee, confirmed the spike in membership at a Westminster rally on 14 December, where they called for BMA members to brace themselves for a fight to achieve pay restoration, but one which they can and must win.
Dr Laurenson said: ‘For too long we’ve allowed our profession to be attacked, de-professionalised and even infantilised,’ noting how conditions including ‘doctors forced to sit on bins’ and being ‘threatened for having a cup of tea from a patient trolley’.
He highlighted rollbacks in training opportunities, accommodation on rotations involving moves taken away and planned annual leave declined – all while pay has been cut in real terms for 15 years.
Spring into action
‘Our profession sometimes feels like it’s in a hopeless depression,’ said Dr Laurenson. ‘But we will come out of this deep dark miserable winter with energy renewed. This spring will herald a new future for us as doctors and for our union. A profession on its knees given a chance to rise.’
Confirming the spike in new members, he said: ‘You are on the winning side, you have the power to turn back the pain of the last 15 years. Together, you have the ability to stand up for one another.
‘The profession now needs us to do what is right and necessary to win this fight, for ourselves, our families and our patients. Together, you are a union that can win full pay restoration.’
He said winning the battle on pay restoration would galvanise the BMA to make further improvements on doctors’ working conditions and training opportunities.
‘Our ask is not unreasonable. We are not worth a quarter less than our colleagues in 2008. And those about to graduate and join us in our profession should not have to suffer the pay cuts that have gone before us. It sounds like a lot, and it will feel like a real struggle. We are up against terrific institutional power and inertia.
‘The Government steps back from its responsibility on a year-by-year basis and we always come in to pick up the pieces, subsidise what our employers are asking us to do and provide the high-quality healthcare we want to give or need to receive as citizens of this country.
‘This is what we mean when we talk about goodwill running the NHS. That goodwill has been spent. The Government is in debt to us and the bell tolls for pay restoration.
‘Never forget how much power you have as doctors when you stand together to take action to correct the deliberate attacks this Government has put on us. Power to the doctors.’
A doctor's worth
Dr Trivedi added: ‘The next few months may feel rocky at periods. While we know that what we’re asking for isn’t unreasonable, the Government will try to paint it as so. They will say we’re greedy, make excuses and want to pit the public against us. But we know no doctor is worth less than they were in 2008, just like no other healthcare professional or member of the public are worth less than they were in 2008.
‘It’s our collective unity that gives us our collective power. Together, we can win back our pay, restore our value and show our power to the Government.’
Laurenson said right-wing media portrayals of BMA representatives would be ‘like water off a duck’s back’ and said it is ‘not going to work’ because the BMA’s power is held by its members, not its leaders.
Emma Runswick, deputy chair of BMA council, is among those to have been targeted by right-wing media already.
She urged those attending the rally to ‘organise on the ground’ to ensure the 50 per cent turnout required is met and said a ‘super majority’ from a larger turnout voting in favour would give the BMA more leverage at the negotiating table.
'You can win'
Dr Runswick said doctors would no longer accept ‘watered down’ terms and conditions, colleagues being ‘pushed’ into burnout or their living standards ‘plummeting’.
‘This ballot is our opportunity to make a clear statement,’ she added. ‘Our collective voice is reinforced by our will to act.’
Pointing out that public sector pay decisions are ‘purely political’ and that the Test and Trace programme cost 37 times more than full pay restoration for junior doctors would, she said: ‘You and your colleagues can win this fight, or you can lose it.
‘There are more junior doctor members of the BMA now than there ever have been before. You need to turn out and get them to vote. Make every effort to tell your colleagues that change is possible.
‘We have a chance here. The time is now to put our energy and effort towards a successful ballot.’
BMA council chair Phil Banfield said the pay dispute was about ‘dignity’.
‘It’s a pivotal moment for our profession,’ he told the room. ‘Over the last 10 years we’ve seen the biggest squeeze on NHS resources since its creation.
‘We haven’t forgotten the doctors who gave their lives during the pandemic, or the politicians that clapped. But claps don’t pay the bills.
‘For years the Government has ignored all our attempts to get them to commit to safe staffing levels. But as soon as we talk about industrial action they want to talk about safe staffing levels. If you want safe staffing levels, don’t cut our wages. We want the Government to commit to safe staffing levels every other day of the year, not just strike days.
‘Don’t treat highly qualified staff as children, don’t ask us to work more productively when we are burning ourselves out.
‘We know collective action is hard; it takes effort and work, people will try to undermine us. You are not expensive for the expertise and skills you provide. You deserve better, and your patients deserve better.
‘This is a turning point. Only a successful ballot will demonstrate the strength of our union, only a successful ballot will bring the Government to the table. It’s an opportunity we can’t waste. It’s your chance to say enough is enough.’