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Jeremy Hunt is playing a dangerous game

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We are reaching the point of no return in the junior doctors’ dispute. Either through blind confidence, hubris - or a combination of both - Jeremy Hunt has just tipped the health service into uncharted territory.

By effectively rebuffing the BMA’s offer of ‘conciliatory talks’ at ACAS to resolve the dispute, Mr Hunt has slammed shut the only exit door there was for both sides to avoid an all out strike.

Now neither can turn away from the inevitable, without a severe loss of face. He will be recorded in the history books as the health secretary that provoked junior doctors into an unprecedented national strike in England. Not a impressive legacy.

And the sad thing is that there were various opportunities over the past few weeks for Mr Hunt to make more placatory noises and avoid all-out war, for instance in his letter to junior doctors earlier this month, but at every turn he has simply managed to anger this normally placid group even further. 

The BMA has not been without fault in this whole process, but misusing statistics and implying that the union had somehow brainwashed all  37,000 junior doctors into becoming ‘militant’ has not covered Mr Hunt in glory.

And all this partly explains the thumping mandate the BMA now has for industrial action, with 99% of junior doctors voting for industrial action and 98% for strike action; all this on a turn-out of 76%, giving a cool overall 74% support for a strike.

Unless there is a radical change of course, GPs will see pickets outside their practices on the 1, 8 and 16 December, as GP trainees are required to protest at their place of work.

The BMA says practices should ‘take any steps necessary’ to ensure that their practice continues to run without their trainees and it also encourages GP practices ‘to be supportive of action taken by trainees working within their practice’.

Inevitably, this kind of strike action will increase the workload for practices, with patients avoiding their local hospital. But most GPs seem to be in support of their junior colleagues and will put up with the additional workload – with some perhaps even tempted to join them on the barricades.

The war of words in the media has already started – with NHS England raising the Paris attacks and the ‘ongoing threat level in the UK’ as a concern.

At this time, it has never been more important that the medical profession presents a united front. The GPC has passed a resolution ‘applauding’ the ballot result and you only have to take a quick look at the Pulse comments section to realise many GPs are supportive.

The truth is that the younger doctors have captured the mood of the entire medical profession in their fight, and that is probably the biggest threat to the health secretary. Today it is the junior doctors, but where could this all end?

Nigel Praities is editor of Pulse

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Readers' comments (12)

  • Spot on Nigel. This has been long overdue and not just from the Junior doctors. Shameless Govt. chasing its pseudo-glorified whims, riding rough-shod over everyone and making sure that their own pension nests are well-feathered. Travesty!

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  • Vinci Ho

    Without yesterday , there will be no today.
    Every injustice has its perpetrator and every debt its debtor.
    The government and SOS owe these junior colleagues justice. Full stop.
    If Agent Hunt believes in 'brainwashing' , he should consult his wife to learn how the Chinese government leaders(from Mao to Xi) did that historically since 1949.
    This historical result of the ballot is pure democracy and do not dare to taint its meaning !

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  • Vinci Ho

    The meaning of these figures is far reaching as far as this government is concerned:
    (1)Turnout rate over 75% despite the recent ,deliberate change of the law by the government to raise the threshold to 50%. The level of discontent of the government is incredible.
    (2) 99.4% industrial action short of strike and 98% in favour of strike . Bear in mind , doctors are highly educated professional who seldom wants to involve in politics and protest. This is a historical moment .
    (3) If I was the Secretary of State , I would do the honourable 'thing'. (Remember what Japanese samurai would do in feudal Japan if he dishonoured the government and emperor?)

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  • Dear Vinci , Jeremy would only do the honourable thing if he were honourable. Don't hold your breath.

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  • Runt is a disgrace
    Beneath contempt
    A serial cynical liar and deliberate evil slanderer of doctors in general
    I hope this strike will strike this abject failure down
    And now it is time for GPs to hit him.... without mercy from a second front

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  • How can you 'negotiate' with a bully as JH is imposing 22/23 points without any discussion.

    Once the Pandoras box of 24/7 all you can eat NHS is opened it will be impossible to go back without 'Patient safety' concerns blocking any meaningful discussion as NHS goes bankrupt.

    This is the big plan with new transatlantic trade agreement opening door for JH's US private pals to swarm in and cream off billions in fake show of rescuing NHS, instead leaving millions with overpriced substandard care for the poor and vulnerable.

    My Tory MP now doesn't even deny privatisation is his goal!

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  • Vinci Ho

    Bear in mind , it is not only about Agent Hunt . While Keogh wanted to bring the argument involving terrorist attack into this , the response of Osbourne, about the concern too drastic cut in Police Budget would be dangerous , was a photocopy of ' it is not about numbers, it is about how to work more effectively and efficiently . We still have a deficit to tackle.' Didn't we hear the same for efficiency saving in NHS? And there is no limit of cuts that can be made while efficiency remains good!
    Hence , his obsession to reach surplus by 2020 has totally blinded him as far as priorities are concerned. No economy, no police . No economy, no NHS at all. Public sector is a luxury which can only exist in good economy......

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  • Perhaps now the BMA will take a tougher stance on behalf of GP's, starting with the tyranny of CQC, an incompetent quango if ever there was one. Can anyone remember what action they took when it was announced that CQC fees might rise by 550% - no me neither

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  • Juniors must not back down on this one. As a GP Partner I've had to take years of cuts to drawings and increased demand without any additional resources. But unilaterally threatening to s**t all over the juniors' Ts & Cs is arrogant beyond belief. Previous Health Secretaries appeared to "get it" to some extent - but not Hunt. I've watched for 2 decades now as the BMA prevaricates; my Trade Union/professional body has been an embarrassment - I have so often wondered why doctors haven't been collectively shouting from the rooftops about the change agenda and using the fact that patients will walk with us (not politicians). Carpe diem.

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  • I can only assume that every Tory politician aspires to being more loathed than Thatcher.
    Cameron and Osborne are doing pretty well but I think Hunt is ahead by a nose.

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