Furnivall et al, in the British Medical Journal, found that there was a 9.75 per cent increase in deaths in A&E units (31 more deaths) in strike weeks compared to normal weeks, despite a 6.8 percent drop in attendance at A&E.
There was a 1.3 percent increase in “emergency admission” deaths, or 40 more deaths, emergency inpatients who died in another part of the hospital. That was despite a 3.7 percent drop in emergency admissions.
The article claimed that “mortality did not increase appreciably on strike days,” apparently because the authors defined any increase below 5 percent as unquantifiable and decided that the 9.75 percent increase in mortality from urgent care and emergencies was too low a base.
The activists, at least, seem fully prepared for unpopularity. As Sutton-Klein said, “the only way to get a decent wage back is by disruptive and prolonged labor measures…for as long as it takes…Things like ‘professionalism’ [and] ‘look respectable’… are not relevant to unions.”
It all started in 2020, with the creation of Broad Left, whose most active members were Runswick and Sutton-Klein. Runswick, who had only graduated the year before, seems to have used his time in medical school as a test.
In 2016, she and two other far-left activists described how, under the banner “Left Labor Students for Corbyn”, they “led a successful intervention on Manchester Labor students, a notoriously Blairite grouping”. [and]… hotbed of party upstarts”, which favored a “narrow electoralism” instead of “organizing together with the workers”.
These efforts led to charges of intimidation, “false” according to Runswick, but she admitted that she and the others “organize[d] caucus and recruit[ed] to a large extent…we used our left caucus as a battering ram to start an insular Labor club.”
Runswick, who was also active in Momentum, then moved on to the national steering committee of the UK’s Zero Covid Campaign, which called for “a total lockdown across the UK until new cases in the community have dropped to near zero.” .
At an online campaign rally in November 2020, just three weeks before the first patient was due to receive his Covid vaccine, Runswick continued to insist that “the main measure against this virus is isolation” and criticized the fact that places jobs and schools had reopened “to maintain profits.” for the ruling class.
As China has shown, pursuing a zero covid policy would have been disastrous, imprisoning tens of millions for months longer than necessary, causing further economic and social damage, and sparking a spate of deaths when the policy inevitably became unsustainable.
One thing Runswick doesn’t seem to have done much of is work as a junior doctor. He graduated from medical school in 2019, but last year he took “time off.” [junior doctor] training for substitute, to be able to do a PGCert [teaching qualification]LBS [British Sign Language] qualification and I still have money to enjoy life a bit.”
The BMA said last week that the intransigence of the government it meant that there was “no other option left” but to attack. But Broad Left has been trying to engage the union with the strike and direct attacks on the Conservative Party for almost two years, long before inflation soared. Until the sudden arrival of DoctorsVote, they weren’t having much luck with this agenda. At the 2021 young doctors conference, his motion calling for it was defeated.
Speaking against it, a former chairman of the young doctors committee, Jeeves Wijesuriya, said: “We are currently a non-partisan union. When I was JDC Chairman in 2016-19 we received an additional £120m [pay] funding and an 8.4 per cent increase over four years, not trying to eat an elephant in one fell swoop, but by bypassing employers to a secretary of state who, God forbid, was a conservative.”
Another speaker, a member of the Labor Party, warned that explicit political attacks would “alienate a significant proportion of our membership.”
A few months after this setback came DoctorsVote, a group that, at least initially, eschewed partisan politics, presenting itself as simply a paid campaign. Not everyone at DoctorsVote is a member of Broad Left. But almost everyone on Broad Left is part of DoctorsVote, what Runswick calls a “Venn diagram” of overlap, and the people on Broad Left tend to be the most active.
Apart from their statements directed at doctors, the leaders of both groups remain intensely partisan. As Rob Laurenson, co-chair of DoctorsVote’s committee for young doctors, said in October, “This government is coercing doctors into the controlled decline of our healthcare system. We will not participate in their failed plans.”
Laurenson and his co-chairman, Vivek Trivedi, believe the 2016 strikes failed, as they see it, because “the days of action were staggered and had little impact. The answer must be consecutive days of real impact.
The union has hired a former RMT rail union official, Matt Waddup, to organize the strikes and says it is training more than 300 young doctors on the campaign trail. He has published an “activist’s guide”, which tells doctors to draw up a “power map” of the relationships in each NHS trust and gives them a “messaging triangle” of things to say.
Sutton-Klein has warned that doctors must “anticipate inordinate and aggressive resistance…from capital and its representatives, that is, the government and the political class, the media…We must anticipate that those in the BMA bureaucracy who choose to support the campaign will be subject to the media. vitriol similar to that faced by Jeremy Corbyn.”
Young doctors make up only around a quarter of the overall BMA membership; most are consultants or GPs. But as the hard left has increased its control, the union’s public statements have become more partisan and strident. His strike vote announcement said ministers “treat the public like fools”; depicts Health Secretary Steve Barclay as “Wally” from the “Where’s Wally?” cartoons. Earlier this month, BMA leader Phil Banfield accused the government of making a “political choice” that caused patients to “die needlessly”.
The BMA’s official magazine, The Doctor, devoted much of its December issue to an attack on austerity, which it said had caused an additional 735,000 people of working age to suffer from multiple serious health problems over the last two years (the increase was actually due to Covid, and the number was falling until then).
He attacked the “doubling” of homelessness on the streets between 2013 and 2018, but failed to mention that it has halved since then. He ended with the story of a man who “tries to lift people up when they are down. After more than a decade of austerity, communities… wonder when, if ever, the government will be willing to do the same.”
What the average junior doctor makes of all this remains to be seen. According to the BMA, 79 per cent of young people say they “often think about leaving the NHS”, with 40 percent say they will “go” as soon as they find another job.. The union says the salary of young doctors has fallen 26.1 percent in real terms since 2008.