The Junior Doctor’s Dispute

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Professor Miguel Martinez Lucio, expert in HRM, Employment Relations and Employment Law

“The current likelihood of strike action in the sector is the outcome of a range of factors related to the working time as well how this is rewarded. Behind the reforms are an intention to extend delivery of NHS services and a push for a greater emphasis on weekend working amongst others.  The question of working time has been a very sensitive issue for some time for junior doctors and the way this has been rewarded is a matter which has led to tense relations between the BMA and the government.  The working conditions of British doctors are seen to be some of the more challenging in the developed parts of Europe and whilst the government talks of a significant pay rise the truth is the BMA is concerned that the way the new approach to working hours are to be rewarded will lead to a decline.

The dispute from an industrial relations perspective is important not solely due to  the specific issues of working time and pay, and the way doctors work, but because it highlights the way that changes in the NHS in terms of marketization, contracting and in some respects privatisation are leading to lower level of trust between NHS workers and their management, let alone politicians.  The signs are that there is concern with the decline in the training of, investment in and support for NHS staff across a range of professions such as midwives and doctors. In fact, we have seen a more brittle and traditional approach to labour and industrial relations matters because of the political uncertainty facing the NHS and the ongoing pressures on staff in terms of performance controls, bullying and lack of resourcing. This provides a background which has partly led to the curious situation we are in. It is not solely the substantive issues of pay and working hours but the way the climate of trust is being eroded as the NHS becomes more managerial and more contract driven.”

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