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Government to blame for poor doctor morale, says former health minister

Doctors’ morale is at its lowest for a decade, partly due to ‘unhelpful and inflammatory briefings’ made by the Department of Health during the junior doctors dispute, former health minister Dr Dan Poulter has claimed.

Speaking to Pulse, the former minister – who served under health secretary Jeremy Hunt until May 2015 – and practising junior doctor said that 'pay restraint, increasing demand and an increasingly litigious working environment’ has contributed to poor morale.

He called for an end to the pay restraint, which has seen the DH limiting any awards to doctors to 1% per year following pay freezes in 2011-12 and 2012-13.

In a wide-ranging interview, Dr Poulter also called for:

  • GPs and commissioners to work with local employers in hard-to-recruit regions to offer employment opportunities for GPs’ partners, to make relocation more attractive to families;
  • An increase in taxes to fund the NHS, which he said cannot be made sustainable by savings alone;
  • The Treasury to sufficiently fund Health Education England to ensure we have enough GPs and other shortage specialties.

He said: 'If I’m honest, I think there has been some very unhelpful language that’s been used, particularly during the junior doctors’ strikes; some inflammatory language. I think some of the smearing of junior doctors came directly from the DH.

'If you speak to people who were involved in the conflict they will be very aware of some of the unpleasant briefings that were going about during that dispute.

'When you’ve got that backdrop of pay restraint, increasing demand and an increasingly litigious working environment, morale isn’t in a good place. It’s the lowest I can remember in my time working as a doctor over the past decade or so.'

Dr Poulter said that plans to make £22bn worth of savings were 'more than ambitious’.

He added: 'Most of those efficiency savings were delivered through wage restraint and that’s obviously not going to be sustainable going forward – it’s very difficult to continue reducing the wages of hardworking NHS staff in real terms on a long-term basis.

'By 2020, we’ll have almost had a decade of pay restraint and that’s unprecedented in any service in the public or the private sector.’

A Department of Health spokesperson said: 'These claims are without substance. We have set out plans to dramatically improve working conditions for junior doctors, including through better training, more support from consultants, more notice of future placements, reviewing the appraisals process and investing £10m to bring doctors back up to speed when they take time out to have a family or for other caring responsibilities.'

While he was health minister, Dr Poulter was criticised by GPs for claiming that out-of-hours services had been 'scrapped’ by the Labour government. As a result, then-GPC negotiator Dr Peter Holden reported him to the GMC for ‘damaging the profession’.


Readers' comments (11)

  • Yet more taxes for the NHS? No fear. It would be throwing good money after bad. What we need is a more efficient private system that runs in parallel and is integrated with the NHS. It would quickly improve the standards in the NHS AND the private health systems (PHS), which are dragged down by the standards in the bureaucratic NHS. By introducing a well-regulated and partly funded tax deductible PHS that people can step into and out of according to their circumstances, there would be mutual incentives for both sectors to get better. It would also keep the PHS costs down by introducing proper competition. Right now they are spiralling.

    It takes working outside a system for a number of years to realise how atrocious the NHS has become, and it isn't the money that has made it so. It's the massive hangover from the old Socialist bureaucracies, monopolies and institutions that were started in the Post WW2 and have largely been discarded but kept in the NHS by successive governments of both persuasions who are terrified of the Marxist rhetoric,dogma and fear which is then spread by the likes of the Daily Mail.

    Every nation in the free world has an NHS of sorts and I agree with the slogan'Save our NHS, Save our NHS' that seems to be shouted on every picket line of junior doctors But the best way to 'save' the NHS is to do what most nations in the West have done which is to give people an efficient tax efficient alternative that they can use without embarrassment or fear of ridicule for being 'elitist'.

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