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11 April

Is the BMA silencing striking junior doctors?

Medics on picket lines are declining interviews and telling journalists that only union reps can speak.

By The Chatterer

Hacks dragging themselves to hospital picket lines after the long bank holiday on Tuesday morning may have been hoping for an easy reporting trip. They weren’t so lucky.

The Chatterer hears junior doctors – who are on the first of a four-day strike in England – have been turning down interviews, telling journalists that only representatives from their union, the British Medical Association (BMA), have permission to talk to the press.

Two doctors on the picket line at a major London hospital told reporters that they would like to speak but couldn’t – offering to ask a BMA rep to come along instead. Another, in the north-west, declined an interview saying they’d been told only BMA reps can speak to the press – “not just anyone”.

Of course, there are all sorts of reasons medics might not want to speak to our nosey selves; they may fear backlash from their hospital press department, or simply wish to keep their personal pay and career woes away from the media.

Having appreciated nurses and paramedics speaking freely to the New Statesman during their own strikes in recent months, however, the Chatterer is surprised by this tight-lipped approach.

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A BMA spoksperson said there was “absolutely no edict to say they cannot talk to media”, but did concede that the union is asking junior doctors who aren’t union reps not to “speculate about areas or topics they are not fully versed in” – like union policy, the pay dispute and negotiation strategy. They added that they do support non-union reps speaking to the media about their personal stories and experiences of life as a junior doctor.

The Chatterer hears from a senior BMA source that the union has been making “loads” of strategic changes since its last round of junior doctors’ strikes in 2015 and 2016, which were unsuccessful (and ended up with a controversial contract imposed by the government). These changes have included “lessons learned from our strategy in talking to media and communicating with our members”. Doctor’s orders.

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[See also: How can NHS strikes be resolved?]

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