Junior doctor strikes: How GPs can show their support

GPs must stand shoulder to shoulder with junior doctors as they go on strike for the first time in 40 years, says Dr Jackie Applebee. Practices can show their support in several ways, she explains, arguing that if junior doctors lose their fight, pressure will increase on all NHS staff.

On 12 January junior doctors will strike for the first time in 40 years. The unprecedented 98% vote in favour of striking on a turnout of 76% demonstrates unprecedented levels of anger over government threats to impose an unsafe, unfair contract and unity in determination to resist.

Some elements of the press are predictably lining up behind the government, cynically using the threat of a terrorist attack, in the wake of the awful events in Paris, to undermine the strike and demonising doctors who quite legitimately call on other trade unions for support. This should not intimidate - surveys repeatedly show that doctors are among the most trusted members of society while politicians and the press rank at the bottom.

However, this is not just an isolated fight for the junior doctors contract. This is a fight for all of us - GPs, patients and other health workers, including student nurses who are being threatened with removal of bursaries on which many of them rely.

Junior doctor strikes

The very fact that health secretary Jeremy Hunt expects more junior doctors to work during evenings and weekends without any increase in their overall pay bill should be a clarion call to the rest of us.

In general practice we are being seduced to offer routine appointments, out of core hours, via the already discredited prime minister's Challenge Fund. The money is non recurrent and the evidence from the pilots does not support widespread roll-out, but government rhetoric continues to push it.

General practice, as we all know, is under severe strain. There are not enough of us and our workload will only increase if junior doctors leave and do not become the GPs of the future.

The GPC has called a special LMC conference on 30 January to debate solutions to the crisis. The agenda has not been published yet but we can be confident that there will be motions on ways to reduce our workload while minimising harm to patients.

GP industrial action

If these are to have any effect delegates will need to give them overwhelming support and the whole GP community will need to be united in implementing action.

The junior doctors are an inspiration to us all. We must support them because if they lose, the government will be emboldened to increase the squeeze on the rest of us.

Put petitions and posters supporting junior doctors in your waiting rooms. Wear the BMA badges and stickers. Explain to patients that tired junior doctors make unsafe decisions. Visit picket lines to show your support.

Who will care for patients if vital staff cannot be recruited?  The NHS cannot survive this onslaught - we must unite across the health service and with patients to defend it.

Dr Jackie Applebee is chair of Tower Hamlets Local Medical Committee

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