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UK junior doctors’ strikes and patients with cancer: a morally questionable association
  1. David J P Wilkinson
  1. Department of Radiotherapy and Oncology, James Cook University Hospital, Middlesbrough, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr David J P Wilkinson, Department of Radiotherapy & Oncology, James Cook University Hospital, Middlesbrough, UK; david.wilkinson2{at}


Doctors’ strikes are legally permissible in the UK, with the situation differing in other countries. But are they morally permissible? Doug McConnell and Darren Mann have systematically attempted to dismiss the arguments for the moral impermissibility of doctors’ strikes and creatively attempted to provide further moral justification for them. Unfortunately for striking doctors, they fail to achieve this. Meanwhile, junior doctors’ strikes have continued in the UK through 2023 and have now extended into 2024. In this response, which focuses on the UK situation and specifically junior doctors’ strikes in the National Health Service (NHS) in England, I will demonstrate a central problem with their arguments—namely that they underplay the harms caused by prolonged doctors’ strikes by ignoring the harms to patients with cancer. This weakens their conclusion that strikes are morally permissible in terms of the conditions and thresholds they set. I then provide a psychological critique of their justification for strikes in terms of the interests of the public. It follows that invoking the controversial concept of supererogatory action is ungrounded but also absurd when you consider time-critical cancer care. If those representing striking doctors wish to maintain a modicum of moral respectability, they should mitigate for patients with cancer and negotiate reasonably and with urgency.

  • Ethics- Medical
  • Politics
  • Health Workforce
  • Philosophy- Medical
  • Morals

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  • Contributors DJPW is the sole author.

  • Funding The author has not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

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