Alice Gerth: Strike action is not the answer

The strength of feeling of anger within the healthcare profession is so strong that those not planning to take industrial action are reluctant to speak out. I want the public and my colleagues to know that I will be at work, not because I support the new contract, but because I do not support striking at this point in time.

My reasons lie in the principles of “Just War” ethics. Industrial action is a form of conflict. I do not have space to go into the theory in full, but will highlight the areas I feel we contravene.

Jus ad bellum “the right to go to war.” Going to war (or striking) should be a last resort and proportional. Strike action is neither of these. Until every person striking has written to Jeremy Hunt and their MP or unless we attempt industrial non-strike action e.g. working to rule or intentionally breaching patients in A&E, we have not reached a last resort. The acceleration of action to a full walk out in the middle of winter is too aggressive and as such not proportional.

Jus in bellum “right conduct within war.” We should direct action against those we are fighting—the government and NHS Employers. Strike action primarily affects our patients and our trusts. The BMA is trying to ensure patients are not put at risk. The cover suggested should protect inpatients or emergencies. But the patient waiting for cancer surgery, already cancelled once due to bed shortages, or the patient in pain with osteoarthritis of the hip will be adversely affected as elective lists and clinics are cancelled.

Finally at the moment we have public sympathy and support. It only takes one emotive story of a patient dying during industrial action to lose this. It won’t matter if the strike action was directly to blame, it will be too good a story for the media. Without the public we cannot win this battle.

I agree that the new contract is bad for medicine, especially the acute specialities, but strike action is not the answer.

Alice Gerth is a junior doctor.

Competing Interests: Paying member of the BMA. Otherwise none.