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TORY Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has been accused of “demonising” junior doctors in a throwback to the virulent propaganda campaign unleashed against the miners by Margaret Thatcher.
Fifty thousand doctors reluctantly launched a full withdrawal of labour this morning in an unprecedented escalation of their dispute with Mr Hunt over his “dangerous” and “discriminatory” new contract.
A government source accused their union the British Medical Association (BMA) yesterday of radicalising doctors and attempting to bring down the Tory administration and the Health Secretary.
The claim was branded “ridiculous” by the BMA, which had offered to cancel the strike if Mr Hunt was prepared to drop his threat to impose the contract and return to talks.
Unite national officer for health Barrie Brown blasted the “squalid demonisation” of junior doctors.
“It is unforgivable that the government should be raising the spectre that the junior doctors are trying to bring down the government,” he charged.
“These are the same sordid tactics that Margaret Thatcher employed against the miners in the 1980s and should be strongly deplored.”
In Parliament, veteran Labour MP Dennis Skinner told Mr Hunt to stop “revelling” in the stand-off and “get back to negotiations.”
Junior doctors will walk out between 8am and 5pm today and tomorrow in their fifth round of strike action.
They provided emergency-only cover in previous strikes, but this action is the first all-out strike by junior doctors in the history of the NHS.
Mr Hunt used an emergency statement to the Commons to make an 11th-hour plea for junior doctors to scab on the strike, which he warned would “create particular risks for A&Es, maternity units and intensive care.”
But 78 per cent of them will join picket lines and protests outside hospitals in England today, according to a survey of 1,158 junior doctors published yesterday by the Justice for Health group.
Just 4.6 per cent said they would be prepared to cross the picket line.
The poll also found that 99 per cent of doctors believed patients would be safe during the strike, with senior doctors continuing to provide care.
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) gave assurances to pregnant women that “they and their babies will receive safe care from senior doctors during the industrial action.”
Unison general secretary Dave Prentis blasted Jeremy Hunt’s claims that junior doctors were putting patients at risk.
“There’s only one man putting lives at risk and that’s him,” he told the Unison health conference. “I’ve been proud to stand alongside junior doctors on picket lines. Their treatment by this government is appalling.”
The ill feeling Mr Hunt has caused was dramatically demonstrated yesterday as one junior doctor quit his job live on television.
Dr Ben White told ITV’s Good Morning Britain he was resigning in order to focus on a legal challenge against the new contract, which will force already overstretched staff to deliver a weekday service on Sundays without any new resources.
Visibly upset, he said: ”I really feel like we have been backed into a corner. We have to put patients first and we can see at the moment the understaffing and the underfunding in the NHS.”
Dr White said he had sympathy with some of the 12,000 patients who will have operations cancelled but said the strike was “for the future of the NHS.”
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn warned: “I just sometimes wonder if there isn’t a deeper agenda here — to gradually reduce the efficiency and effectiveness of the National Health Service at the same time as promoting the private medical industry.”
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