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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)

  • He said: 'If I’m honest,........ says it all really doesn't it.

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  • Dear Dan, you were more than happy to denigrate us when you wanted to take a cheap shot in the DM or on the news. You are an embarrassment to the profession of Dr and really no better than Hunt and the rest of his gang out to destroy the NHS.

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  • The point is that May and Hammond will continue to hold austerity over pay. They expect clinicians to continue taking on more work, until people drop, change career , emigrate or retire. Nothing is going to change.

    The only thing that matters for them is to balance the financial books of UK PLC. The unfortunate thing is that world economics demands that they have to do this. In the process they are expecting all government workers to do the above. I don't think things will change even if there were strikes. So it's about putting up with it or getting out, setting up private practice...we will never again see an NHS that is funded to deliver the care that we were used to...there is no prospect of UK PLC delivering the profits it used to...rising demand for care will never again be met through the NHS

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  • doctordog.

    Not enough courage to have said this when in government though.

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  • Weasel words Daniel. You were quite happy to toe the line when you were in the ascendant. That even you are appalled by what your former chums are doing to us speaks volumes. Your tears now come much too late.

    Do something useful and get your backside back on a Labour Ward, you have much bad karma to repay to the universe.

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  • Nhsfatcat

    If he's got some guts he'll tell us the truth behind what's going on at the centre) as if we couldn't guess)

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  • As an active MP what is he doing to make it better? This denigration of the profession is deliberate to make it easier to denationalise the NHS and lay the blame at the feet of disgruntled doctors.

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  • really?
    well that is an earth shattering revelation!!
    never occurred to me?
    who would have thunk it?

    never ceases to amaze ..the intergalactic incompetence of our failed archaic political system.

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  • National Hopeless Service

    Ive been told that bears poo in the woods.

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  • I find it heartening that the two clinicians in the Tory party, Dan Pulter and Sarah Woolastong talk of increasing taxes. This is heresy in the eyes of Tory party, I think they're rather brave. they are also right. Yes Dan Poulter was wrong before (not least about but he's right now. Credit where its due.

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