In the News

More strike action by doctors

Mike McCartney

3rd June 2024

11th strike in 18 months, and now another just before the election

The latest strike action by junior doctors is schedule to take place just before the July election. Will this latest move be successful?

Quite an interesting case study of success and status

Before looking at the doctor strikes in depth, it is worth quickly recapping on some fundamentals.

How do some pressure groups achieve success?

• It is worth defining ‘success’. This would mean the prevention of unfriendly legislation (groups campaigning against the approval of super-casinos), the passage of friendly legislation (Action on Smoking and Health and the public smoking ban). Amendments to legislation (Countryside Alliance and the anti-fox hunting legislation) and simply raising public and political awareness of an issue (environment, campaign group Liberty and human rights issues).

• Achieving insider status (see above for methods) can promote success. Farming and environment groups in the UK and the European Union are good examples.

• A factor in success is finance. Wealthy groups, such as those representing industries or the professions such as the British Medical Association, as well as large trade unions like UNISON, can afford to mount major campaigns, undertake research and access the media to campaign.

• Good organisation can promote success. Organising major demonstrations is impressive and can influence both public and political opinion. Thus the Countryside Alliance put rural affairs on the political map in 2003 by putting 300,000 demonstrators on the streets of London. The use of the Internet and mobile phones mean pgs can organise demonstrations quickly and effectively – as the anti-fuel tax lobby has discovered.

• Good use of the media is a useful tool. Jamie Oliver created a one-man campaign to improve schoolchildren’s eating habits and obtain more government money for school meals. Joanna Lumley and the Ghurkha Justice Campaign is another oft quoted example. Groups representing NHS patient categories have also used the media to highlight their cause. Fathers4Justice is possibly the best example of media manipulation, but Extinction Rebellion is probably a better example in terms of recent years.

• As shown above, the involvement of celebrities can bring success. Jamie Oliver again, Bob Geldof and Bono on world poverty, Elton John or Sir Ian McKellen on Aids and gay rights issues are examples.

• Sometimes a group may be ideologically in tune with the party in government. Thus rights groups such as Liberty will prosper when the government has a liberal flavour. Business groups tend to be favoured by Conservatives and groups representing the poor and pensioners will generally have more influence over Labour.

So it has been announced this week that junior doctors (a somewhat confusing term for this not in the know that refers to any qualified doctor who has not yet reached consultant level - it means they can have up to nine years of experience and even be the most senior doctor in a hospital ward) have voted overwhelmingly to take industrial action by refusing to go to work for five days between 27 June and 2 July. The main reason is that they feel their pay has fallen below unacceptable levels. The BMA chairs of the junior doctors committee, Dr Robert Laurenson and Dr Vivek Trivedi, argue that junior doctor pay as fallen by over 25% in real terms since 2008.

Most junior doctors are in the BMA, and this is often cited as the archetypal insider group. In fact, a quick browse of 10 UK Politics text books on my shelf reveals that six listed them as such. It used to be joked that you didn't see people wearing lab coats and stethoscopes marching on Whitehall. Now we can jettison that idea, as the doctors have continued tp adopt tactics that are normally the preserve of frustrated and politically disadvantaged outsider groups.

Total days lost to strike action so far total 39, with the result being that nearly a million and a half acute inpatient and outpatient appointments have been cancelled and/or rescheduled.

Will this latest move prove to be a success? Either the incumbent government will capitulate and offer a deal that juniors find acceptable, or as is more likely, the reset button on negotiations will have to be pressed with Keir Starmer at the helm, and Wes Streeting as the new Health Secretary.

Mike McCartney

Mike is an experienced A-Level Politics teacher, author and examiner.

© 2002-2024 Tutor2u Limited. Company Reg no: 04489574. VAT reg no 816865400.