As junior doctors gear up for more industrial action against Hunt’s imposition of a new contract, which threatens unsocial hours payments, this is the summary of a speech by Rob and Francis, two members of the BMA who spoke at a meeting of Leicester Trades Council recently.
If the media were to be believed, junior doctors should be grateful. They are reportedly getting a 13% pay rise, the reforms will bring about safer weekend working practices, and the NHS is becoming a 24/7 service, despite its staff being given no extra money. If this was true, there would not be a Minister for Health running the NHS, but a Minister for Magic!
In reality, doctors see attacks on their terms and conditions as the beginning of an attack across the whole of the NHS. This is being done in order to make the NHS more attractive to private companies, such as Richard Branson’s Virgin Health, who have recently landed a huge contract to provide care in the South West. This is being done in order to attack the principle of the NHS – that it is a nationwide, comprehensive healthcare service, provided for all and free at the point of need. The Health and Social Care Act has already taken away government responsibility for our health service – any “willing provider” can take over chunks of our healthcare system.
So it is not just that junior doctors and student nurses, whose bursaries are being removed, are angry for themselves. They are also concerned about patient care and the principle of a free health service, paid for through central taxation. However, on a personal level, they also have plenty of grievances against the government.
They are angry that they will have to work more night-shifts and weekends, that their working week will lengthen and their breaks decrease. This will have a direct impact on patient care, the morale of the profession and the health and stress of working in a hospital. It sets a precedent for the rest of the NHS and amounts to a substantial pay cut. Doctors who do voluntary or paid work in their spare time – manning an air ambulance, working as a medic on the sports field, or working as a locum – will have to check if their employer needs them first.
This action is not just about a group of (justifiably) disgruntled employees – this is about the future of the NHS. So get down to a picket line at a hospital near you and talk to the doctors who are taking action. One day, your life might depend on them.