Junior doctors in England went on strike on Tuesday and the majority of the public are backing them, even though they don’t know what they are striking about.
A Newsnight/Ipsos MORI released on Monday shows that 66% of the pubic support the strike as long as emergency care is still provided.
This is very strong support for a public sector strike. But when Ipsos MORI asked the same people why they thought junior doctors were planning to strike. Only 2% of those questioned thought that it was about the safety of patients, only 1% thought it was about the safety of healthcare staff and only 3% thought it was about a disagreement over seven day services in the NHS.
The public are right that long hours and pay are factors in the strike, but the number one reason given for the strike by the British Medical Association (BMA), the union that called the strike, is safety. In the summary of their position on the negotiation with the Department for Health, the BMA put “worrying omissions which mean that the BMA still has concerns about patient and doctor safety” at the top of their list of reasons for not reaching an agreement with the government over the new junior doctor contract.
While it’s true that pay and hours are important factors in the negotiation between the BMA and the department for health, it seems the public is confused over what problems junior doctors actually have with the contract that has been offered to them. For instance, 46% of the public think that the strike is over “long hours” whereas the actual issue is that the BMA wants “safer working hours and conditions for junior doctors.”
Specifically, the BMA and the Department for Health are in dispute over points like what a night shift actually is. The government says it’s any shift which includes three hours between 11pm and 6am while the BMA says it’s any shift that includes hours after 10pm. There are also various disagreements over issues such as rest periods and shift patterns.
It’s also surprising that only 3% of those questioned by Ipsos MORI thought that the strike was over “seven-day services in the NHS.” The dispute between the Department for Health and the BMA does date back to 2012 when changes to junior doctor contracts were first proposed, but many of the current sticking points such as shift pattern changes, stem from a promise made by Prime Minister David Cameron in the run-up to the 2015 general election to implement a “truly seven-day NHS.”
The reason the public seem to support junior doctors despite being unaware of the issues, could be down to the huge popularity the NHS retains with the general public. A poll by Ipsos-MORI for British future in 2013 found that 72% of the public viewd the NHS as “a symbol of what is great about Britain and we must do everything we can to maintain it.”
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