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Lessons to learn from the junior doctors

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I can’t be the only one who has been watching the junior doctor protests, strike ballot and negotiations, while thinking (Dodgy cockney accent) ‘Go on my son!’

I’m writing this as negotiations have resumed and strike action is postponed. We don’t know what - if any - ground the Government will give, and the BMA is taking a gamble by going back to the table.

But what is clear is that having such a massive show of unity behind industrial action by junior doctors has put negotiators in a position to push for real concessions. No doctor wants to strike. But the threat of this ensured that their voices were heard.

Whatever the outcome, the juniors have shown us that the medical profession still has a few tricks up its sleeve. Listen up - it will be us next. What can we learn?

1. You need a figure head. Or two. Not only has the JDC had the far-from-junior Obstetric Registrar Dr Johann Malawana as its chair - his unflappable calm pervading all public appearances and interviews - he has also risen above personal attacks, tabloid smears and the most gutter-level journalism Newsnight has seen for some time. There have also been several ‘unofficial’ leaders, holding no formal elected position but working alongside Dr Malawana to deliver a message straight from juniors to the press and public. This combination has let the BMA get on with the sometimes restrictive business of following Union legislation, while the grassroots has had the freedom to speak plainly and do what needs to be done. The Twitter #Istandwithjohann has been a formidable display of unity.

2. Use social media. within hours of the announcement of a strike ballot beginning, a brand new Facebook group sprang up and gathered almost 60,000 junior doctors as members. A clear Twitter campaign co-ordinating efforts across the country, and the use of consistent hashtags as part of this, meant the press knew what to look for. Several people have reflected that had social media been as big during the MTAS debacle, the juniors at that time may well have won the day. If you aren’t on Twitter and Facebook, get on there now. They are powerful tools.

3. Show unity. This hasn’t come easily. There has been tireless local and national campaigning from those leading the BMA campaign, and those working alongside but not within the union. Pushing for a double yes vote in the strike ballot has given the BMA the mandate it needed to re-enter negotiations in a strong position. But don’t make the government’s mistake of thinking this is all random. The juniors have been their own PR department. Literally hundreds of Facebook, email and Whatsapp groups have been co-ordinating the message, the interviews, the key lines to be repeated by any junior doctor speaking to the press. Individual stories and blogs have been written, proof read, approved or shelved. Personal crusades and off message spouting has been firmly discouraged. Stories on the front page of right wing papers, taken from moles within some of these groups, have served as a somber reminder that big brother is watching. But after a steep learning curve, they have it nailed. There are disagreements, but they are behind closed doors. The message is unity, and the almost unanimous strike ballot result confirms that. This could be the hardest thing for us to emulate.

4. Be intelligent. I have been amazed to witness the collective might of such a highly qualified profession in action. We underestimate ourselves again and again. The juniors did the same to start with, but feeling they had nothing to lose has led them to push the boundaries. They reversed the spin of research papers showing a link between spinning that the NHS isn’t open 7 days, and resulting delayed presentation and mortality, with stories of the ‘Hunt Effect’ deterring patients from accessing care at weekends. Junior doctors going out into towns and cities to speak directly to the public via #meetthedrs has galvanised public support. Engaging with patient groups, asking for GP support and input, listening but not being afraid to act. It has been incredible.

We don’t know how this will all end, what I do know is we will face this soon; the Government is already talking about putting seven-day access into the GP contract. But there are valuable lessons to learn from the junior doctors, and I hope valuable allies we should be working with.

Let’s hope you can teach the old dogs new tricks.

Dr Zoe Norris is a GP in Hull

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Readers' comments (12)

  • Vinci Ho

    (1) As I said before , democracy virtually happens for a short while before general election in western parliamentary politics which is alway indirect and representative . This 'democracy' evaporates rapidly after the general election . And when indirect democracy fails us , we should revert to direct democracy .
    (2) This double over 90% ballot results are written black and white in history book and will not go away , at least in the memory of this generation of young doctors for the time of their career.
    (3) Strike is only one of the possibilities of a non-cooperation campaign. Wave after wave of movements are what we need. This is only the beginning........(PS. It is not a bad idea to just suspend as politics is about doing the right thing at the right time by the right person(s). The whole media is only currently occupied by the news about the vote on bombing Syria).
    (4) Gentleman first and the scoundrels follow. Talk, threat, talk and fight , and talk again......

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  • Tories used their link to press to slant Consultants and GP`s and We didnt have a prayer.

    However the Junior doctors have utilised social media which is not under the right wing control and hence have broken the Tory stranglehold on information.

    Even the BBC reporting is towing overnment line rather than facts.

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  • Great analysis. GPC take note. This is how a war is waged now.

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  • Vinci Ho

    No matter which side you are on , when you have a PM of a government ,trying a shortcut to get what he wanted to do , by 'labelling' people 'terrorist sympathisers' , you know you are dealing with a bunch of politicians with zero honour and respect on others......
    Our fight goes on....

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  • Vinci Ho

    Darth Vader's obsession to bomb Syria NOW.
    Ozzy's obsession to reach surplus of economy in 2020.
    Agent Hunt's obsession of seven days NHS.
    Said it all.
    Said it all.........

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  • We GP's have consistently over many years aided and abetted the lie of the NHS that a good primary care service can be funded through taxation
    If we fought as the junior doctors have done with what is best for patients we would not be in the sorry position we are
    We have accepted for money ( ie bribes) not to tell patients the truth that we are being forced to deliver a rubbish service
    We have arrived where we are from a lack of a deep belief in our work and its value
    We have lost our balls and our destiny to be doctors to be proud of
    "The fault dear Brutus is not in our stars but in ourselves that we are underlings "
    Julius Caesar Shakespeare

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  • Vinci Ho

    For those protagonists and ''Vader/*unt sympathiser'', dedicate this current Justin Bieber's number one song to you and hope you wake up if you still 'love' these guys:(lyrics slightly altered , love is replaced by ****)

    ''My mama don't like you and she likes everyone
    And I never like to admit that I was wrong
    And I've been so caught up in my job, didn't see what's going on
    But now I know, I'm better sleeping on my own

    Cause if you like the way you look that much
    Oh, baby, you should go and **** yourself
    And if you think that I'm still holdin' on to somethin'
    You should go and **** yourself
    And when you told me that you hated my friends(comrades)
    The only problem was with you and not them
    And every time you told me my opinion was wrong
    And tried to make me forget where I came from

    And I didn't wanna write a song
    Cause I didn't want anyone thinking I still care
    I don't but, you still hit my phone up
    And baby I be movin' on
    And I think you should be somethin'
    I don't wanna hold back, maybe you should know that

    My mama don't like you and she likes everyone
    And I never like to admit that I was wrong
    And I've been so caught up in my job, didn't see what's going on
    But now I know, I'm better sleeping on my own

    Cause if you like the way you look that much
    Oh, baby, you should go and **** yourself
    And if you think that I'm still holdin' on to somethin'
    You should go and ****yourself

    For all the times that you made me feel small
    I fell in 'love', now I feel nothin' at all
    Had never felt so low when I was vulnerable
    Was I a fool to let you break down my walls?

    Cause if you like the way you look that much
    Oh, baby, you should go and **** yourself
    And if you think that I'm still holdin' on to somethin'
    You should go and **** yourself
    Cause if you like the way you look that much
    Oh, baby, you should go and **** yourself
    And if you think that I'm still holdin' on to somethin'
    You should go and **** yourself

    Wake up and join the revolution......

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  • Zoe, as a doctor, like 100000s before and after, I have done over 700 80 hour weekends, 32 hour days with little sleep. It shows how poor the BMA really is that its members do hours that would put slavery to shame and we still have to defend and justify ourselves to press, patients and politicians. We are hugely powerful, there is a worldwide shortage of doctors and we can say stuff Jeremy Hunt if we so wish. But the BMA do not properly defend its members and we are always defending ourselves. Ot is time to walk out and demand nay state what hours we will work safely and for how much.
    And Hunt and the lot can take it or leave it. We can go like dentists.
    But that will never happen = for BMA read DOH. Otherwise, no doctor would be doing 90+ hours in any sane society.

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  • Vinci Ho

    Hope is not lost today.....it is found
    Leia , Star Wars : Force awakens

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  • You may call me Cynical and I am after 25 yrs being GP. Setting up and building up practice from scratch. How I was harassed to drive me out of practice & town by so called pillars (pillucks) of medical community in the area.

    We are different from JD and consultants. They get salary & We GPs have pot of funds and everyone wants a bigger slice no matter what happens to the neighbouring practice.

    Been on LMC & 1st hand experience of bullying when
    questioned.
    With inside knowledge and help from the friends vacant practices gets taken over (I can say this with confidence because I can back it up with the evidence). How these GPs get away with many misdeminos again I can back this with evidence. I am not weak but I did not go to GMC because I didn't want them to go through what I had to. It might be my mistake or misguided principals but I love my profession and vocation.
    We are in this situation is our own doing.
    I have now retired (still working and enjoy being GP) but I feel for the profession and for patients who will be the biggest losers.
    When all GPs properly unite and stop being selfish b.,, nothing will change.
    Probably it's too late....

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