BMA junior doctors committee (JDC) member Dr Bea Bakshi told GPonline that indefinite or prolonged walkouts were among options on the table to be discussed by the strike leadership at their next meeting on 7 May if the government refuses to back down on plans to impose a new contract.
Dr Bakshi, who sits on the GPC trainees subcommittee, said she was ‘praying’ for the health secretary to lift the contract imposition threat so the two sides could get back to negotiations and and avert further escalation.
‘Should Jeremy Hunt lift the imposition and decide to talk, it will be a really easy decision to make, that there will be no further strike action,' she said.
Junior doctor contract
If the government refuses to lift the imposition threat, she added, ‘a prolonged, full walkout, an indefinite walkout, are definitely some of the considerations’.
Further action would be considered based on how maximum pressure could be brought on the government without compromising patient safety, said Dr Bakshi.
An email discussion leaked to the Health Service Journal last month revealed that indefinite action had been raised by JDC members. NHS England responded with a letter to trusts last week telling them to prepare for possible indefinite action.
The letter said: ‘Unfortunately it also appears that further industrial action is possible, including the possibility floated by the BMA of a full and indefinite withdrawal of junior doctor labour. This would clearly have wide ranging impacts on patients. If drawn out for an extended period, there would likely be major implications for elective care and urgent care and the ability of hospitals to keep certain departments and services running.’
The JDC meeting next Saturday will consider all options suggested by grassroots trainees, said Dr Bakshi, including mass resignation.
Junior doctors were ‘overwhelmed’ by the strength of public support on picket lines across the country during last week’s first full walkout, said Dr Bakshi, and morale among strikers was now stronger than expected. A mass rally at Westminster after Tuesday's strike was ‘incredible’, Dr Bakshi said.
She said that striking junior doctors had been buoyed too by visits from Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and shadow chancellor John McDonnell during the walkout. Trade unions too had come out to support junior doctors, 'with the same concerns that this is an attack on all [public] services [by the] government’.
Junior doctors had been ‘politicised’, Dr Bakshi said, by the government’s handling of the contract dispute. ‘When someone comes and misquotes statistics and evidence as a weapon against junior doctors, to belittle them, to degrade them, and to demoralise them, and to scaremonger among the public.’
Junior doctor strikes
‘Doctors became politicised, because of what was coming out of the DH, they became empowered to say someone needs to stand up for patients, someone needs to say what he's saying wrong. In that respect they've become politicised, to represent the truth.’
Last week the Equality and Human Rights Commission said it had written to the United Nations expressing its concern that the imposed contract could potentially discriminate against women.
Junior doctors are also bringing two judicial reviews against the DH testing the legality of the imposition process.
Dr Bakshi said junior doctors did not want to take further strike action. ‘We genuinely want a conclusion to this and to get back into the hospitals. But it's now a decision for the secretary of state to decide what is best for the NHS.’
In a statement released after leaked emails first suggested indefinite strikes could take place, health minister Ben Gummer said: 'The BMA is now officially contemplating an indefinite suspension of potentially lifesaving care. That will worry patients all over the country. This is evidence of an organisation in total disarray and the action proposed shows a regrettable disregard for patient care.'