As front pages shun third BMA strike, are junior doctors losing the PR battle?

A third strike by junior doctors in England starting today has been given substantially less media coverage than previous industrial action - something healthcare PRs say plays into the Government's hands.

Turnout key today, PR says: Medics picket in Bristol last month (Credit: Ben Birchall/PA Wire/Press Association Images)
Turnout key today, PR says: Medics picket in Bristol last month (Credit: Ben Birchall/PA Wire/Press Association Images)

Following a first strike in January where the British Medical Association appeared to win the battle for public opinion, junior doctors went on strike for a second time in February, and at 8am today walked out for a third time.

The latest strike is 48 hours rather than 24 as with the two previous strikes, and emergency care will be provided. Doctors had threatened not to provide emergency cover in previous strikes, but did in the end do so in a concession to public goodwill.

No national newspaper features the strike on its front pages today, with The Daily Telegraph and The Times carrying NHS stories, but these refer to whistleblowing protocols in hospitals.

Bill Morgan, a founding partner at Incisive Health who worked in the Department of Health during the previous government, said after the first strike that he thought that the Government "probably won the media battle, with a lot of support from Fleet Street along the way".

Today, he said of the third strike: "The Government doesn’t want the junior doctors' strike anywhere near the news, so today it’s won the media battle hands-down – mainly by timing the knife-edge vote on Sunday trading to coincide with it.

"The key question now is what real world impact the strike will have: how long can the BMA maintain the strike, and how far will ministers let NHS performance slide? Turnout on strike days is everything now: if doctors look like they're returning to work, the Government can justifiably claim victory. If they aren’t, the Government will wobble."

Paul Pambakian, a senior account manager in the health team of MHP Communications, who appeared to give victory to the Government in his comments on the second strike, said: "While still high, recent polling has shown support for the BMA dipping and fewer people blaming the Government. There was more coverage of ‘sheep-worrying’ in the Metro this morning than there was of the strikes, highlighting the difficulty the BMA will have in generating new interest in an old story."

Two further 48-hour strikes are planned, to begin on 6 April and 26 April.

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