Yesterday morning, the silence was broken. Fifteen days after Jeremy Hunt made his inflammatory speech at the Kings Fund in Central London, giving NHS consultants an ultimatum on working weekends, and describing the rest of the staff as “lazy” and over-paid, the desperate voices of those people he bad-mouthed and those who support them were set free. After spending over two weeks building up in the virtual pressure cooker of social media, traditional news outlets have finally started to take notice.
Jeremy Vine is the first mainstream media broadcaster to openly take notice of #WeNeedToTalkAboutJeremy. He neither supports nor ridicules, merely highlighting the fact that there is a story here. Whether he decides to take it further and make it part of his Radio 2 show remains to be seen, but the fact that he recognises it, and has put it in the public arena, means that the hard part is about to start.
The public’s take on this is crucial, and the petition to debate a vote of No Confidence in the Health Secretary could be seen as a risky move. What is seen as a democratic register of the public’s view by some can also be questioned for it’s validity – ‘it’s just NHS staff signing’ or ‘people are just bored’. I mean if you can get a petition going to get a flavour of low fat yoghurt back on the supermarket shelves you could petition for anything. The danger with this petition was that the public wouldn’t take it seriously; that it was ‘those doctors whinging again’. Which is sad because that would miss the point completely.
Reputation is everything in a career, especially in one as publicly scrutinised as the NHS. Mr. Hunts speech, where he (among other things) put the emphasis on consultants and their apparent refusal to work weekends as the reason for higher patient deaths on Saturdays and Sundays (totally wrong), has made a scapegoat of that particular senior role in the health service, while still allowing the Health Secretary to appear to maintain the view that he cares for the NHS. He turned the blame of failure of weekend access on a group of people who, yes, do have an opt out clause in their contract so they don’t work weekends but, as you will be able to read already in the Mirror, and from this weekend in the Independent, “88% of consultants are already working weekends”, based on a survey by the BMA of almost 900.
Here’s the truth about doctors, and I can say this because I’m married to one. People don’t become doctors or nurses for a dream working week. They don’t sign up because they’ll have time for lengthy breaks during the day, and they certainly don’t do it for the money. People become doctors because they feel they can help, they can make a difference. They spend at least 10 years training and honing their skills to be the best they can be before they are officially qualified, and even then, throughout their entire career, they never stop honing and training. They spend an increasing amount of time in an environment that never stops, having to tell patients often horrifying/heartbreaking truths, while diagnosing conditions from their encyclopaedic medical knowledge, all the time speaking to patients who may be as nice as anything, or rude and uncooperative.
Now here’s the thing about medical professionals – none of that bothers them. They will never complain about their job because it’s what they love, it’s what they signed up for. Long hours, no breaks, finishing late – it’s all part of the job, and that includes working at weekends. Doctors accepted this ages ago because of how our modern society functions. Thousands of people working shifts which includes weekends, and the staff at the NHS knew they would have to adapt to that. What staff at the NHS do not appreciate, is their own boss telling them that they are useless, they’re not doing enough and should work more but be paid less. This whole notion of a seven day working week for the NHS already happens because of demand and need from the public, but there is one fundamental question nether Mr. Hunt nor the Health Department has answered – how will this be paid for? For a hospital to be fully functional at the weekend extra staff of all levels are required. Then there’s support teams outside the hospital walls; social care workers, councillors etc. They will all require funding, which the the £8bn the Government pledged in the manifesto will barely touch.
Here’s another thing about medical professionals; we, our society, will always need them. There will come a point where you need to make an appointment to see that nurse, or you need to sit down with a consultant, or you may need to pay a visit to A&E. The thing we are fighting for is how those life-saving services are going to be funded. We live in a capitalist society so all those man hours, knowledge and equipment need to be paid for. Time is money, and that money must come from somewhere. Do we really want to squander a universal free health care system that is paid for through our taxes and end up paying insurance premiums for check ups and examinations that may well be a waste of medical time, but will create a profit?
While I sit here telling you about all this, the National Health Service is being dismantled right in front of us. All this media attack from the government is a smokescreen, to turn public opinion against the ‘money grabbing work-shy doctors’ who in reality are working above and beyond what should be realistically expected of them, working way past the end of their shift to make sure patients get the care they deserve. In the meantime those patients are seeing ‘stories’ in certain right wing Tory linked media saying ‘leg pain is linked to cancer’ or ‘neck ache could be cancer’ or ‘Cancer Cancer Cancer’, (remember all the stories where “my doctor ignored all my symptoms and it was cancer”), increasing fear and therefore demand on medical staff way beyond capacity, so doctors have to not only deal with those who require much needed treatment and help, but also the “worried well”. This in turn portrays the doctors as unable to cope with their job, but don’t worry, here’s a privately run medical company who ‘really know how to do their job’ so everything’s ok. Oh, and what’s your credit card details please?
Since GP’s were forced to take control of the budget of all health services for their own locality back in 2010, they had to commission services on an increasingly smaller budget whilst patient demand has also increased exponentially. This has also meant time taken away from running their GP surgeries and stretching patient care even further, not that the doctors would ever let you see that. This model that the government imposed on them, against advice of medical professionals, was set up for GP’s to fail. It is this situation, imposed by the previous coalition government, that has paved the way for private companies to swoop in and take over. We already have the likes of Virgin Health providing their own service. As soon as patient demand picks up, they will be made to pay for extras and eventually the NHS will be nothing more than a brand name, the heart of its ‘free for all’ service ripped out. The public needs to step in and join the fight. The twisted facts that are being released to the media are nothing more than pro-government, pro-privatisation, anti-NHS propaganda, specifically designed to cause fear and confusion among the public.
The battle lines here are very clear; do you trust a government that manipulates statistics and twist figures to serve their own fictional narrative of ‘lazy doctors’, while many of them have their personal links to private health care companies which stand to take considerable profit at the expense of patient health, and who are conveniently recommended to receive 10% pay rises, or do you trust the diligent medical professionals who look after your loved ones without charge, that never complain about their vocation and are forced in to a pay-cut, while being strong armed to working longer hours, but are now fighting to get back their dignity and respect?
The only common ground that the doctors and nurses have with Jeremy Hunt and the current Conservative government is that they both want a seven day NHS. There is already a seven day NHS. The issue is that the Government don’t want to pay for it, so they are turning responsibility and blame on those who are doing the job. This is why it was imperative that the mainstream media began talking about it. Now, with the likes of the BBC’s Jeremy Vine, and the Mirror and Independent getting the story out of social media and in to the full view of the public arena, we can finally get the voices of these hard-working people heard and understood.