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Junior doctors risk losing public support

From Dr Erl Annesley

As a BMA member since student days and now retired from general practice, I was horrified by the decision of the junior doctors to have a full blown strike.

To give the impression that you are prepared to be seen, standing by, holding placards, refusing to treat seriously injured or ill patients, kills off the most valuable asset any campaign can have: public support. That same support from all sides killed off the proposed welfare cuts in the budget.

Do not ignore the importance of keeping the public on your side

If the junior doctors lose people’s support, they lose the battle.

The public already feels that graduate doctors are well-treated by taxpayers, with their hugely-subsidised degree, guaranteed job prospects on graduation and choice of well-paid part- and full-time jobs when the junior days are over. Their perpetual complaining and ‘Save our NHS’ posters do not go down well, even before any full blown strike.

The public knows many doctors like my stepdaughter, who is a three-day-a-week GP with young family, earns a salary better than many full-time workers and never has to work any unsocial hours. How many other young graduates have that privilege? My son has a well paid job he enjoysas a consultant in emergency medicine. Though he is often tired and works nights and weekends, that is what he expected when he chose to work in that field. It was his choice.

The public does understand the issues. They realise that although junior doctors will get a 13% pay rise, many of them make up their salaries with overtime at special rates and for them a pay cut may result in serious family budget problems. They are happy that anyone who works more hours than they are contracted to do should be paid for those hours, it is only the rate of pay for them that is in dispute. Whether this rate should be higher and how much higher, depends on what any employer can afford. As the NHS budget grows almost as fast as you can print money, the population ages and medical advances race ahead, the extra money will have to come from other areas of big spending like education, welfare, pensions or tax. The last is obviously preferable and the BMA should be playing its part by canvassing politicians of all shades to persuade the public of this and agree a non partisan multi-party approach to raising income tax, specially set aside to cover what is necessary for the NHS to thrive.

The irony of all this is that the BMA made a similar mistake when Kenneth Clarke introduced his new contract in the early 90s. An attacking campaign was launched with big pictures of Kenneth Clarke on roadside hoardings denigrating his attitude to the NHS. It had the reverse effect from that intended. The public did not protest at his proposed changes despite doctor opposition, and the new contract went through, heralding the beginning of targets and later unpopular ideas, like fund holding for GPs.

The lesson learned then should not be ignored and the last thing young doctors need is another own goal. Do not ignore the importance of keeping the public on your side.

Dr Erl Annesley is a retired GP 

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Readers' comments (36)

  • The public may not understand that doctors have lives, too. This Contract is discriminatory against women.
    But striking is not the answer because it does not achieve anything against a DOH totally entrenched in its view. Accept now and leave as scion as you can or resign, like GPs should.
    I do not think striking for days intermittently is an answer. But I am not sure what the answer is against a Govt that imposes an unacceptable Diktat.

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  • If you think you are badly treated, compared to other jobs, then resign and do something else. Striking is the equivalent of threatening to smash the windows unless you get what you want. It worked for me.

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  • What do you do when the Govt imposes a discriminatory wrongly named 'Contract'? What can anyone do, except leave ultimately.?
    Their jobs may well be done by people from other countries, I suppose.

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  • I fully support the strikes but please lets argue against it on safety grounds alone. The claim that this is discriminatory against women is just wrong. We all get to choose. I thought we were going for equality these days?

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  • I'm a retired GP after 34 years - although still in very frequent contact with GPs through a business that I run.

    Paradoxically I agree with both sides of the views expressed in this comments section.

    General Practice is now totally and utterly impossible - it just cannot be done by anyone for any length of time. It bears absolutely no resemblance to the job that I signed up to in 1981. Practice after practice that I visit is at or near the point of collapse. I am certain that large areas of the country will be in a 'post NHS world' very soon.

    I also agree that Mr Hunt is utterly intolerable and frankly rather stupid.

    Although I feel at a gut level that striking is 'just not a think that doctors should do' - I accept that many medics feel that the juniors have no choice. They find themselves 'between a rock and a hard place'. I am certainly not prepared to criticise them for being braver than I would be.

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  • I am semi retired, but fortunately am a GPwSpI, which is my predominant work now. I count myself as being lucky as my job is fulfilling. My seniority is gradually being clawed back. I am also a sports doctor & work with some JDs. One of them is an anaesthetist & he reckons he will be earning £14k less pa with the imposed contract. I despise what Mr Hunt is doing both to the JDs and the GPs, but I cannot condone an all out strike, which could affect patients. Today's GMC letter from Niall Dickson explains the risks to an all out strike. There must be another way to persuade the government to think differently. I do not think the BMA are being helpful in their negotiations. Suggestions that do not involve an all out strike welcomed.

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