Following failed discussions with the government concerning pay, junior doctors announced in early December 2023 that they would be carrying out two strikes, one between 20-23rd December and the other being their longest strike action in NHS history, a six day strike between 3rd and 9th January 2024. This follows strikes by other key groups earlier in the year, including nurses and consultants, which CREATION.co had analysed previously to determine how healthcare professionals (HCPs) were responding to them.
Following the announcement of these latest strikes, CREATION.co analysed the online conversation of HCPs to find out their current sentiment and views. Just over 1,000 HCPs discussed the strikes online between 3rd December 2023 and 3rd January 2024, with over 2,600 posts mentioning the strikes. HCPs actively shared their views and opinions of the strikes as it was announced, and during the strikes itself, but conversation was more subdued in between.
Online support for junior doctors’ strikes increased compared to previous strikes in 2023
As HCPs shared their opinions online following the announcement and during the strikes, it became clear that HCPs online in the UK were overwhelmingly positive towards the junior doctor strikes, with 94% expressing positive sentiment towards the strikes, while only 2% of HCPs who shared their thoughts online felt negatively towards it.
When expressing support for the strikes, the most used hashtag by HCPs was #payrestoration, with HCPs across different seniority levels and roles saying there was an injustice in the decline in real-pay for junior doctors over the last 15 years. This was the primary reason behind the support for junior doctors, with HCPs being quick to point out that it is not about a pay rise but reversing a pay cut.
75 HCPs in the UK, most of whom were not junior doctors, reshared this post by the BMA Junior Doctors X account:
— Junior Doctors (@BMA_JuniorDocs) January 3, 2024
Having analysed the sentiments of HCPs online surrounding the nurses’ strike and consultants’ strike, it is notable that positive sentiment towards industrial action has risen significantly in this instance compared to previously.
HCPs online call on junior doctors to ‘Strike Hard’
Whilst patient safety was a key factor for disapproval during the nurses strike, and consultants earning enough being the main factor for disapproval during the consultants strike, neither of those were major sentiments which impacted the overall sentiment towards the junior doctors strikes. HCPs online were aware and supportive of the pay restoration being sought by junior doctors and there was no indication in the conversation that other HCPs felt junior doctors were being paid enough. Notably, calls to ‘strike hard’ were shared by HCPs online nearly 50 times, with HCPs expressing that this sort of action was necessary to save the NHS and protect the patients, showing a growing positivity towards this sort of industrial action.
— Dr Mike (@EmergMedDr) January 2, 2024
Junior doctors will be on strike.
My message to them is very simple:
The only way to save the profession in the UK and to try to save the NHS is FPR
They are happy blaming you for wait lists – when it’s their intentional moves and lack of care for lives https://t.co/prj7kvSqoC
— Dr Sandeep Bansal (@iDrSunny) December 20, 2023
However, the limited amount of negativity towards the junior doctors strikes echoed some of the concerns for patient safety seen in previous strikes, coming from HCPs who felt that the NHS was too stretched, and that the strikes would place too much pressure, particularly given the time of year. James Whiteside, a psychologist, shared a post which stated,
Specialised doctors and nurses spoke out in support of junior doctors
Rather than junior doctors speaking out about their own cause, it was nurses, general practitioners and other specialist roles who were the most vocal online in speaking out in support for the junior doctors’ strikes. One third of posts by nurses used the term ‘solidarity’, displaying a sense of camaraderie with junior doctors, as seen in this post by clinical nurse Harry Eccles:
Solidarity with striking Junior Doctors today.
As the government refuse to tackle the issue of pay and retention, doctors are forced back to the picket lines.
Without doctors we have no NHS.
— Harry Eccles (@Heccles94) December 20, 2023
Similarly, GPs and specialists also found a sense of comradeship when expressing their support for junior doctors striking, referencing both their own experience as junior doctors and their current aims.
“I’m a GP and I fully support the Junior Doctors strike. I’ve been a Junior Dr albeit a long time ago and it’s so much harder now. They deserve pay restoration #JuniorDoctorsStrike #teamGP” – GP in South Cumbria
“I also did 80+ hour weeks. I can’t say the decisions I made towards the end of those weeks were as good as the ones I made at the beginning. Shifts are there for a reason. […] I completely support the strikes. Not just on pay, but on the crazy working conditions junior doctors have to tolerate these days.” – GP in Wales
“Junior Drs deserve full pay restoration, as do consultants, GPs and SAS Drs. The strikes are working: the government has shifted a long way since this campaign started. I hope this helps a little bit to get us all the way.” – Anaesthetist in London
Consultants dispelled media narrative in expression of support for junior doctors
A key theme in the online conversation around the junior doctors’ strikes is the support of consultants, in particular when quashing the online narrative of a divided relationship between consultants and junior doctors. Consultants online spoke up to deny this narrative, expressing frustrations at ‘attempts to divide and conquer’. In tandem with this, consultants were quick to deny the assumption that the strikes would compromise patient safety, vocalising that senior doctors have stepped up in the absence of their juniors.
Contrary to the government spin out to force today, the consultants I know overwhelmingly support striking junior doctors. Divide & rule is a tired tactic. https://t.co/q6q8VRysjk
— Dr Rachel Clarke (@doctor_oxford) December 20, 2023
Junior doctors’ strikes have ‘fractured’ relationship with consultants, say NHS trusts | NHS | The Guardian … says one anonymous CEO. We can speak for ourselves. Attempts to divide and conquer will not work. https://t.co/7oYHbgUfao
— Tim Lane 💙 (@MrTimLane) December 20, 2023
Will strikes continue?
It is clear to see that HCP sentiment online towards industrial action and striking is becoming more supportive as more strikes are announced. With a long six day strike taking place, HCPs are increasingly feeling the need to take drastic measures in order to be heard, and online conversation reveals that they are not willing to backdown unless the government meets their demands, with senior doctors even willing to say no to existing deals without a better deal for all their NHS colleagues. If this sentiment trend seen in the online conversations of HCPs continues, it could be the case that strikes will continue in 2024 unless a suitable negotiation is achieved.