As the ballot of our English colleagues sees those ubiquitous orange envelopes hitting doormats south of the border, the preparations for Scotland’s ballot continue at pace.
The Scottish Junior Doctors Committee are committed to securing full pay restoration for our members, reversing the continuous pay cuts of the last decade and beyond. When your reps speak to doctors every day up and down the country, the anger felt by the profession now is unlike any other time in recent memory.
Years of failed workforce planning and pay erosion have left NHS workers pushed to the brink by their work and the medical workforce depleted. It’s not right that we have to apologise for the delays in care that are rightfully angering our patients; while we are at the coalface, we get the brunt of the anger and the blame, not the Westminster and Holyrood administrations who have not anticipated or acted to prevent – and instead have sometimes hastened – this unfolding deterioration. But it is not yet inevitable that the NHS completely crumbles around us and those we care for.
Last week I met with the Scottish Labour and Conservative spokespeople to talk to them about the ballot and relay some of the shocking stories our members report, as well as my own experiences. But while the opposition parties were open to learning about the staff retention crisis and the relentless nature of our day-to-day professional life which drives it, we have still not heard back from Humza Yousaf, the cabinet secretary who still has the power to avert the impending strike action that Scottish juniors will soon be balloted on. The Scottish Government did not listen when we warned them we needed urgent action and now they are simply not talking to us about this crucial issue. This sadly sets us on a collision course, with the point of impact hurtling closer by the day.
This is a path we have taken as a last resort after failed talks and nearly 15 years of shouldering pay cut after pay cut by the Scottish Government. But no more, enough is enough. Members across Scotland have empowered us to stand up and be counted, and now we’ve started its time to capitalise on the momentum you, our members, have already given us.
If we need to, I am confident we will win a ballot, and the following industrial action. We will win because we have a passionate, informed, and motivated membership, the number of which is at a record high. We have around 1500 doctors already in our strike organising groups – if you’re not in one then you will know someone who is, so ask around. Or contact me direct at (Chair-SJDC@bma.org.uk ). This kind of person-to-person dialogue will be what drives our success and will help bring people along with our goal.
We’re also running webinars, one specific to each region of Scotland, which will arm doctors with knowledge across all elements of our campaign and potential strike action. It will also help those who attend answer questions in the workplace and connect with other activists nearby. While we will talk more about this at the events, if you already know that you want to sign up as an activist – and help build support for full pay restoration – you can sign up here. Alongside that, your reps will have specific training to help us organise our power so members feel confident hitting the picket lines or walking down the wards to recruit. Whether you’re an engaged politico or an energised member of the rank and file, these webinars are essential and welcoming to all.
The ballot we’re preparing for will be a watershed moment for the medical profession in Scotland. A union that can win pay restoration can win anything. A more just way of funding professional exams, places to rest and reliable provision of hot food at work, more flexible training opportunities. Our other fights seem like basic rights when they’re written down like that, and the fact we don’t have them nationwide is why so many of us are reconsidering whether medical careers are sustainable.
Nobody came into NHS Scotland with the intention of leaving it. But none of us came into NHS Scotland expecting to burn out, miss our lunchbreaks regularly, or miss life events due to rotaring failures. Those who disingenuously claim “we know what we signed up for” do not have any concept of the moral injury we face daily, and they fail to grasp that as underappreciated but highly-skilled professionals we are leaving in our droves for pastures new. It’s time for politicians to act to stem the tide and start to fix our NHS. Whether that’s alongside us, or because we’ve forced them to, is now down to them.
Dr Chris Smith is Chair of BMA Scotland Junior Doctor’s Committee