Question: if you were responsible for the biggest workforce in the country, one that potentially holds the lives of every man, woman and child in the country in their hands, would you treat them with respect? Would you meet and talk with them directly about your concerns over a stretched service and try to work together to find a solution? Would you think it absurd to create a new contract that removes a cap on lengthy, unfair and unsafe working hours while reducing their pay? If you’re answer is ‘yes’ to these three questions, congratulations – you are not Jeremy Hunt.
I’ve found myself talking to lots of different people over the last couple of weeks about the state of the NHS, and the fight that the country’s junior doctors are putting up. It is of course these people that are making the biggest noise right now; fighting against an imposed contract that is, according to Jeremy Hunt and the Department of Health, non-negotiable (save for one clause) that will, according to the people who actually do the job, make their jobs unfair and unsafe for them and their patients.
Having seen the visible exhaustion on Jeremy Hunt’s face recently, and his clear contempt for transparency in his department by refusing to answer questions from the public, health care professionals, or even his fellow MP’s, it’s clear that he underestimated the reaction he would get to his new contract. Medics are seen to have effectively just rolled over in the past and taken whatever outlandish new proposals have been forced upon them. This is no longer the case. Marches in London and across the rest of the United Kingdom have made it clear that enough is enough. Support has been coming in from all sides, with patients, celebrities and even politicians showing their support. The Junior Doctors are shouting, and more and more people are listening, save the ones who caused this mess in the first place.
This new contract isn’t just about junior doctors – it affects the whole of the NHS. The nurses who work with them, the varied care workers who rely on them, the consultants who train them (and may one day hand over their roles to them) and the students who will become them. When you see that 70% of junior doctors plan to leave the National Health Service if this current contract is enforced, and that the government plans to reduce funding the NHS to the lowest amount since the 1950’s, despite their pledge to create 7-day NHS, you are basically being told that the NHS is sinking fast. It’s a grand ship that’s had so many holes been rammed in to it but no one’s willing to plug the holes. It’s a ship captained by a man who is lying to you about the direction it’s headed, while he secretly signals for more expensive competitors to come along port and starboard side with their own ships that will cost the passengers all their pieces of eights, nines and indeed tens. This captain believes in efficiency and profit at the cost of patient health. The partnership between five UK NHS trusts and the Virginia Mason hospital in Seattle is one such example; an establishment that is “renowned for adapting the Toyota lean production system to patient care”. On the face of it, the hospital scores quite highly for standards in America, but as this comparison shows, it measures up poorly against a hard working NHS hospital. This is hardly surprising given that our NHS was rated the best in the world in 2014, with America coming in substantially lower.
The facts and figures are there in black and white. Mr.Hunt’s ability to twist these figures is now being closely scrutinised after serious allegations (backed up with evidence) that he “misrepresented a key study” on weekend deaths. but still this is not enough. Action needs to be taken. Junior doctors have already marched in London, and there will be similar marches round the UK in the coming days. Add to that the British Medical Association will start balloting it’s members on strike action from 5th November, and you realise how terrible this situation has become. Jumior doctors do not want to strike, but they have been forced in to an untenable position, which thankfully, a growing number of the public understand.
I spoke to two individuals who are effectively on either side of the battle – Michael Cearns is a final year medical student in London, and will become a junior doctor in August 2016, when this new contract is set to be enforced. Dr. Hamed Khan is a GP, A&E doctor, and at the forefront of commentating on the junior contracts. I have transcribed their interviews in full, so you can have a glimpse at the different sides of this battle.