The messages from junior doctors on the social media site Reddit are unambiguous.
‘F*** this s*** and more than anything, f*** the NHS,’ reads one. For good measure, it throws in a callous reference to record patient waiting times that may have cost a shocking number of lives: ‘Don’t guilt-trip me with your cancers anymore … I sincerely deeply hope the whole damn thing collapses.’
Another Reddit user joins in, saying: ‘The NHS is drowning, and I would happily hold its head under water until the bubbles stop.’ One more replies: ‘One could say it’s the kinder thing to do.’
It may not be the most representative sample. But the thread of messages on the media site, which is used by militant young members of the British Medical Association, gives a graphic insight into the mindset of some junior doctors as they plan a 96-hour walk-out in England following the Easter bank holiday.
Health leaders have described the planned stoppage, which follows the rejection of doctors’ demands for a 35 per cent pay rise, as by far the most disruptive in a wave of industrial action by NHS workers that began in December.
The messages from junior doctors on the social media site Reddit are unambiguous. Pictured: Co-chairs of the BMA’s junior doctors’ committee Vivek Trivedi (left) and Rob Laurenson (right)
The thread of messages on the media site, which is used by militant young members of the British Medical Association, gives a graphic insight into the mindset of some junior doctors as they plan a 96-hour walk-out in England following the Easter bank holiday. Pictured: Junior Doctors from the BMA trade union on their picket line at St Thomas’ Hospital, London
The 35 per cent rise is essential say the doctors, who claim they have had 15 years of real-term pay cuts. But such an absurd increase will never be met. The fact the doctors have cynically chosen their moment, just after a lengthy bank holiday, means that demand for treatment will be sky high before the strike even begins. And it follows a 72-hour strike last month that resulted in the cancellation of 175,000 appointments and operations.
Yet judging by the Reddit messages, certain junior doctors – and particularly those with influence in the BMA – are determined for the suffering to continue. ‘We need to cause serious disruption across the service’ to punish people, asserts one. Another adds: ‘I’m a doctor and I hate the NHS.’
And a further message exclaims: ‘REMEMBER – THE DISRUPTION IS THE AIM. This is not just a protest like the nurses strike, we need to cause serious disruption across the service.’
Forget patients’ lives, this is part of a nakedly political campaign. Elected officials of the BMA talk openly of their hatred of the Tories and turning the strike into an assault on the Government. Two of the most prominent are Rob Laurenson, 28, a privately educated trainee GP from Kent, and Vivek Trivedi, 30, a trainee anaesthetist.
Both are co-chairmen of the BMA junior doctors committee, both were involved in negotiations with health minister Steve Barclay, both have appeared on TV as spokesmen for the cause and, when asked on Reddit about the strike, both replied in unison: ‘Our preference is giving employers the legally required notice of days of action and nothing more. Our preference is a full walkout.’
Intriguingly, Laurenson and Trivedi have a crab symbol as part of their Twitter profiles and reportedly wore crab badges during the negotiations. This was almost certainly to express their solidarity with hard-Left doctors – although some have used crabs on social media as an anti-capitalist symbol.
Daniel Zahedi, a BMA East of England official, told a Stop the War conference in January: ‘With talk of a general strike growing louder and louder by the day, I implore co-workers and colleagues to come together, from nurses, midwives, physios, OTEs, paramedics, pharmacists, porters and domestics, to our posties, our firefighters, our railworkers, bus drivers, teachers, university lecturers, dockworkers and everyone in between.
‘It’s more than about pay, it’s about justice.’
It is true that the BMA, the oldest trade union in Britain, has a long history of political unrest. Aneurin Bevan, the Labour architect of the NHS, called the organisation ‘politically poisoned’ and was fulminating about them just four months before the health service’s launch, which the union feared would undermine the role and influence of doctors.
‘There has been …misrepresentation, sustained by a campaign of personal abuse, from a small body of spokesmen who have consistently misled the great profession to which they are supposed to belong,’ he said.
‘I make a distinction … between the hard-working doctors who have little or no time to give to these matters, and the small body of raucous-voiced people who are alleged to represent the profession.’
But 75 years on from that Bevan speech, it’s clear that sections of the BMA are more militant than ever, having been hijacked by the hard Left.
And the manner in which this has happened is as shocking as it is cynical, with echoes of the way Marxist supporters of Jeremy Corbyn engineered his surprise victory in the 2015 Labour leadership contest and then saw off all attempts to unseat him.
Indeed, many of these entryists into the BMA were members of Momentum, the shadowy political group that was set up to defend Corbyn’s leadership.
It was in 2020 that a group of mainly 20-something doctors formed an organisation called Broad Left – the name stems from a Communist Party strategy to ‘unite to capture positions within a union’ and move it Left to win ‘concessions from capitalism and the state’. The outfit’s logo is a stethoscope arranged to look like the hammer and sickle and it set to work on the BMA, hand in hand with a larger group called Doctor’s Vote, a body dedicated to securing the astronomical pay rise.
Key to their modus operandi was the fact that internal BMA elections have very low turn-outs and Doctor’s Vote used this to ensure their preferred candidates had the best chance of being elected. ‘Persuading current voters … shouldn’t be a big focus,’ noted one of their internal directives.
Another said: ‘We must elect representatives who will not sell out, who will not falter under media and government pressure.’
The result has been a resounding success for the hard Left.
When elections were held last April, just 1,600 people voted – fewer than 1 per cent of the BMA’s 173,000 members. And the Doctor’s Vote/Broad Left caucus now has 59 of the 60 regional junior doctor representatives and accounts for 26 of the 55 voting members on the BMA council.
As the activists say in another internal document: ‘Never in the history of the BMA has such a large-scale, co-ordinated effort been made.’ They boast they have ‘pushed through … by far the most significant change in BMA industrial strategy for a decade’.
The strategy has been accompanied by advertising. Last month the BMA took out an advertisement claiming newly qualified medics were paid only £14.09 an hour, while baristas at Pret a Manger are paid £14.10.
The figure has been disputed, however. FullFact, an independent checking service, pointed out that the BMA numbers represent the basic pay of the lowest-ranked doctors – just 11 per cent of their 48,000 junior-doctor members. And such rates would apply only to doctors who receive no higher pay for night or weekend work.
‘In practice, it’s likely that very few junior doctors, if any at all, are paid £14.09 for each hour of work that they are required to do,’ says FullFact.
Junior doctors who are members of the NHS Pension Scheme also, of course, receive pension contributions worth 20 per cent of their salary. But these are mere details to those leading the fight at the BMA. Laurenson and Trivedi are not alone in heading the intensely political campaign.
Others include Emma Runswick, deputy chairman of the BMA council who is just 28 and a woman with a formidable record of hard-Left activism. A member of Broad Left and a former deputy chairman of Momentum, she is known as ‘Red Runswick’ and works in community health in Manchester as well as two days a week for the BMA.
Before the 2017 election, when Corbyn was Labour leader, she signed an open letter urging all the Left to unite to fight to make him prime minister.
Runswick has also defended prostitution for medical students as ‘flexible, well-paying work with limited hours’. She wrote: ‘Support your members at ARM [BMA conference], folks – at least some of them will be sex workers.’
She says that organising doctors in strike action is an ‘opening for socialist politics’.
On the Broad Left website she proclaims her battlegrounds: ‘For a fighting union. For pay and pension restoration. Unashamedly Socialist.’ She was also on the steering committee of the UK Zero Covid Campaign, which demanded a full UK-wide lockdown ‘until new cases in the community have been reduced close to zero’.
If the committee’s demand had been met, we might still be in lockdown.
Runswick comes from a family of hard-Left campaigners. Her mother Kathy was a Momentum supporter and Labour Party constituency chairman in Wallasey in Merseyside. Her father Alan, a trade unionist, was also in Momentum.
Another far from moderate member of the BMA council is Rebecca Acres, 31, a junior doctor from Warwickshire who describes herself as ‘neurodivergent’ – someone who differs ‘in mental or neurological functions from what is considered typical’.
A Christian who ‘thinks Jesus would have been Left-wing by modern standards’, she is a founder of Broad Left and was elected to the BMA council last year.
She describes Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour Party, luridly, as full of ‘proto-fascist red Tories’.
She says the Conservatives are ‘almost genocidal’ and insists that ‘the extremists (and fascists) are trying to wrest control of our institutions from the artists, liberals and leftists; they must be resisted’. Meanwhile, hardliner Jo Sutton-Klein, 28, a casualty doctor in Manchester who was also elected last year to the BMA Council, has no compunction about boasting on her Twitter handle that she’s ‘organising strikes’.
The doctors’ dispute should be used to challenge Tory trade union laws, she says.
‘Nationally co-ordinated, disruptive, wide-scale industrial action with extremely ambitious demands would seriously disrupt government … it will mark a significant step in the reversal of the defeats that trade unions have faced since the 1980s,’ she adds.
‘We should anticipate inordinate and aggressive resistance from the Government, political class, the media.’
The organiser of the strikes also has form. Matt Waddup, director of member relations at the BMA, is not a doctor, but learnt his craft at the militant train union the RMT.
He later moved to the University and College Union and organised the walkout of 42,000 staff at 64 universities in 2018. He told academics that industrial action should escalate gradually until ‘real damage is done’. Millions of students were not told whether lectures would take place, with academics silent until the last minute to cause the maximum chaos.
Waddup has a clear strategy about strikes: ‘We start this action small and we work our way upwards.
‘We give the employers every single opportunity – even ones they don’t deserve – to come back to the table before real damage is done, before real disruption happens in the sector.
‘The fight of our lives doesn’t mean that we put our heads down and charge straight at the enemy. That’s the sure way to be defeated.’
The rampant politicisation of parts of the BMA has alarmed Conservative MPs such as Ben Spencer, a former NHS psychiatrist. He said: ‘The BMA cares more about politics than patients. We know the impact the last strike had – appointments cancelled, patient care affected and more pressure on NHS staff.
‘Yet the BMA seem more interested in becoming the medical branch of Momentum.’