Image: Elly Robson
Yesterday’s Junior Doctors’ strike was a historic moment in the battle to save the NHS. Up until now, the process of back-door privatisation has obscured the slow asphyxiation of the NHS. To Jeremy Hunt’s alarm, the doctors’ strike has acted as a rallying cry in the fight for a well-resourced free, public, and democratic health service for all.
Everyone has their own NHS story; most of us have several. For me, it was the incredible care I received when I shattered my shinbone in a bicycle accident; a junior doctor pieced it back together with seven pins and a plate. After six months of weekly NHS physiotherapy, a further operation to remove scar tissue saw me back in working order. It’s fitting, then, that because of Junior Doctors and the NHS I was able to get back on my bike yesterday to participate in a ‘flying’ bicycle picket to support their strike.
We organised it last minute – in the 36 hours before the strike – and managed to mobilise around 20 people to wake up early on a freezing January morning and bring warming support to chilly pickets at six central London hospitals.
Meeting at the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel, we strapped colourful placards reading ‘Patients support junior doctors’, ‘Free Wheelin 4 Free Healin’ and ‘Tories are killing the NHS’ to our backs and headed out into the rush hour traffic chanting ‘Bikers for strikers - support the Junior Doctors’.
Picketing doctors were heartened and touched by our visits, as well as impressed with the quality of baked goods on offer. When we explained to them that we are ‘patients – past, present, and future’, many were visibly moved.
We thanked each other effusively, almost comically: they were overwhelmed by our simple gesture of solidarity, we by everything they do for us all everyday, and most especially on this strike day.
Each picket was different, but public support was near universal: drivers honked relentlessly, petitions were signed apace, and coffee, cakes and letters of support were delivered in a constant stream of small offerings.
Outside Great Ormond Street Hospital, small children high-fived doctors and beamed as BMA stickers were passed out. As David Cameron and Jeremy Hunt took to the airwaves to condemn the strike as ‘dangerous’ and ‘unnecessary’, a different narrative was pushing its way up from the streets: formed from an accumulation of these small, conscious moments of solidarity.
Even as the Tories attempted to push a wedge between doctors and patients, aided by various media outlets, new connections were being forged at the entrances of hospitals, with the clear message: ‘Their struggle is our struggle’. The public, it turns out, are not oblivious to the fact that without committed and highly skilled junior doctors, the NHS will cease to function.
If I were Jeremy Hunt (and I am grateful I am not), I would be seriously worried about the evident depth and breadth of public support for the Junior Doctors’ strike.
Two further strike days loom on Tuesday 26 January and Wednesday 10 February: the outcome of the dispute is up to all of us.
As we discovered yesterday, it doesn’t take much to bring some love to the doctors standing up on the frontline of the fight for the future of our NHS. Find some mates, make some colourful and interesting placards, bake a cake or buy some solidarity satsumas, and head down to your local picket line to show support. Better still, make a call out for people in your area to join in a more coordinated and visible solidarity action.
It’s our NHS: let’s show that there are still ‘folk left with the faith to fight for it’.
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