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Independents' Day

Ms May can stop the strikes, but only if she wants to

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Junior doctors have been forced into a corner by the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt. He has managed to insult and alienate NHS staff across the board. 

Theresa May, the new Prime Minister, has already indicated her lack of compassion for the NHS by supporting Mr Hunt. Her first big mistake as PM was to re-appoint Mr Hunt as health secretary. Most NHS staff have no confidence in him. Not just doctors. The second mistake is to endorse Mr Hunt as an excellent health secretary and rebuke the BMA. 

It's all in the hands of the Government

The reason the strikes have been announced is the continued reluctance by Mr Hunt to do anything other than impose a new contract, a contract which is unfair and unjust, which junior doctors have demonstrated repeatedly that they do not have confidence in and rejected in a referendum last July. The Government’s position is clearly ideological, given their selective disregard for the supposed evidence base for 'a seven-day NHS'.

Did anybody believe Ms May when she said, 'funding is at record levels, with the highest number of doctors employed in the history of the NHS'? She needs to know that the UK has fewer doctors, nurses and beds per head of the population, and less money to spend than comparable countries. Ms May missed an opportunity, she should have replaced Jeremy Hunt as health secretary and instructed the chancellor to find more money. Instead, she chose the path of continual conflict with the BMA and underfunding of the NHS.

Mr Hunt is working hard to divide the profession. He is hoping to exploit divisions in the medical profession over the wisdom of strike action, to force the junior doctors to back down. I sincerely believe that the Academy of Royal Colleges have provided him with the necessary ammunition; before going to press to say they are 'disappointed' in the strike they should have known that the long term damage of an imposed unfair contract is far worse than cancelled elective care. 

We are struggling to provide a five-day service as it is, in some instances trusts are resorting to treating patients in corridors. We are seeing hospitals close and operations cancelled regularly due to staff shortages. To stretch us even further, without proper investment, will cause greater damage to patients than this strike. Junior doctors have not asked for a pay rise at any point, and the politically ill-thought-out election manifesto pledge of a seven-day NHS is uncosted, not adequately planned for, not necessary and cannot be delivered without a substantial investment from the Government, which is impossible in these financially challenging times.

The NHS is on its knees with crippling deficits, as the majority of foundation trusts put out bogus plans pretending they will balance their books. NHS England is proposing a major re-organisation, under the 44 new local sustainability and transformation plans to meet its £22 billion efficiency savings.

The BMA is saying, without any 'ifs and buts', that it will call off the strikes if the Government abandons imposing a tougher new contract in October. It's all in the hands of the Government. It should be blindingly obvious that no doctor wants such protracted and damaging action that could potentially harm patients.

The Government is responsible for creating the conditions for safe working of our juniors and it is their responsibility to provide and deliver safe services. And to Theresa May I would say: 'Look at the current state of the NHS and the problems it faces, shouldn’t settling with the junior doctors should be your first priority, rather than defending your incompetent health secretary?'

As the premier of the country you and Hunt must bear responsibility for anything that might go wrong during the industrial action by the juniors, who after all have served the NHS and the country well for generations. 

Dr Kailash Chand OBE is a retired GP and former deputy chair of BMA council. You can follow him on Twitter @kailashchandobe

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Readers' comments (11)

  • Absolutely right advice to Theresa May. Prolonged dispute is in nobody's interest !

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  • Hear, hear! Mrs May needs to read this.

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  • Good article. The junior doctors should have the wholehearted support of the entire profession. They are not taking this action lightly and they are not demanding more of anything. They are trying to defend their conditions of service from the imposition of a contract that will make what is already a dire situation with staffing, recruitment and retention far worse, especially for the specialities with the most arduous anti-social rota patterns, like A+E medicine (which are also the ones having the greatest difficulty now with recruitment and retention - and this is leading in some cases to services having to close). The long term consequences of this imposed contract will be far worse for patients and the NHS than the cancelled elective work that will happen with these strikes. I am sure most consultants, SAS doctors and GPs, as well as our nursing and other health professional colleagues, will do their best to minimise risk and harm to patients as they understand that this struggle is about more than just the junior doctors. It is about the quality and safety of care across the whole NHS which is being seriously undermined by current underfunding and understaffing, and will not be helped by imposition of a 7 day NHS (whatever that actually means) with no extra funding or staffing. The JDs are simply asking for negotiations to resume and for the Government to stop the threat of imposition. Hunt said on TV that the way forward is talking not striking -so is he willing to resume meaningful talks?

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  • Mr Mephisto

    Fantastic article. The Junior Doctors have been well and truly been backed into a corner. What the politicians have failed to recognise is that this is a very dangerous thing to do when you have a wounded animal that has nothing left to lose and is fighting for its survival. The Junior Doctors have become well and truly disenfranchised particularly in London where they cant afford to rent and will never be able to buy. If you take away any hope for the future and try and remove all vestiges of professional control they really have nothing left to lose.

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  • Agree
    The dispute is due to hunt
    May who is unelected has lost my support
    Both should go

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  • Vinci Ho

    Read Dominic Sandbrook's article 'David Cameron's fatal insouciance' in Newstateman(29/8/2016)this morning , a few inspirations generated :
    (1) Kind of agreed:-As he quoted Enoch Powell who said that for all prime ministers , their human flaws are inevitably amplified by the stresses in office , eventually end up as failures. This is from the perspective of looking back the history of all the previous Prime Ministers.
    (2)Strongly disagreed :-He attributed Cameron's failures to laid back personality , leaving things until the last moment, so called insouciance.
    To me , it was exactly his indifference on other people's feelings insisting his personal crusades to satisfy his sheer egoism , which cost his job in 10 Downing Street.
    George Orwell said in 'Why I write':
    “All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery.” And the four reasons why writers write were shear egoism , aesthetic enthusiasm , historical impulse and political purpose :-
    Sheer egoism- Wanted to be credited well in history,''desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on grown-ups in childhood, etc." He says that this is a motive the writer shares with scientists, artists, lawyers - "the whole top crust of humanity" - and that the great mass of humanity, not acutely selfish, after the age of about thirty abandons individual ambition. A minority remains however, determined 'to live their own lives to the end, and writers belong in this class.' Serious writers are vainer than journalists, though "less interested in money".
    Aesthetic enthusiasm- "pleasure in the impact of one sound on another, in the firmness of good prose or the rhythm of a good story." He says that this motive is "very feeble in a lot of writers" but still present in all works of writing.
    Historical impulse- "desire to see things as they are, to find out true facts and store them up for the use of posterity."
    Political purpose- ''desire to push the world in a certain direction" in every person. He concludes by saying that "the opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude."

    As far as these 'qualities' are concerned , politicians are much worse writers. Cameron certainly wanted to be remembered as 'one of the greatest' PM in all time. Of course, fate is cruel when it comes to wishful thinking . Being a columnist of Daily Mail, the author also tried to compare DC with Chamberlain and Eden , perhaps they were not that 'worst' after all as they both had good personalities and characters in the eyes of their colleagues.
    It is interesting to know how much Theresa May had learnt from this story of DC or whether she is just a blind follower copying the pattern again and again. Clearly , appointing the same health secretary seems to be a lazy and vain move although it can be argued that she is too tied up by the Brexit syndrome .
    (3) But that leads to an interesting point suggested by Dominic : Most 'good' PMs in history were remembered mainly for their establishment in positioning this country on international front stage but not so much achievements in domestic affairs . On the other hand , it was exactly the opposite being true as far as winning a general election is concerned .I think that is common sense . Historians would be tempted to go with the face value as far as the greatness of a country at a time in distant past and only imagine the sentiments and frustrations of people living in the country with harsh lives at that time . A general election now reflects the present sign of the times .
    The question of whether we should have a general election right now is obviously targeting the argument that May has had no democratic mandate. Meanwhile , it is also a big temptation considering the Labour Party is at risk of fragmentation with their chosen-one leader well led by May in the opinion polls(yes , these polls could be so wrong!).She had chosen the same way picked by Gordon Brown to wait until 2020. In a way , she has 4 years of Premiership and perhaps it is not in a lady's nature to go for a gamble even though there is a possibility of obtaining a stronger hold of majority in the Commons if we have a general election tomorrow .
    Problem is ,credibility has to be earned in a hard way otherwise.NHS is a domestic matter and it is diseased on the decline. Being lazy and laid back is just the right recipe of disaster .
    Of course , she can let her 'excellent' SOS to bear all the blames by the time of the next general election . This confrontation with the junior doctors is not going to disappear easily , especially her excellent SOS continues in his office . This is ironically a bigger gamble than triggering the general election tomorrow .
    For all her vision of tackling the inequalities in this country , she does not need liability like her excellent health secretary .
    Choice is yours , Miss May.......

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  • I totally disagree with the sentiments of this article and all following contributors . This strike is in the main only about money not by high minded principles of patient care as the increasingly militant Junior Doctors Committee would have us believe.The BMA negotiators agreed a perfectly reasonable deal with the government which it recommended to its members only to have it thrown out by the JDC. The JDC are totally against balloting all the juniors as they know there ISNT support for these totally disproportionate set of rolling strikes. They are asking the juniors to give up a quarter of their pay by taking part in these strikes whilst the organizers of strikes at a local level can claim £250 a day in expenses including first class travel and hotel accomodation from its union the BMA. There is a strong left wing bias including political activists Momentum and Corbynistas within the JDC. The JDC does NOT represent the views of the vast majority of juniors and brings the medical profession into disrepute by playing politics over this issue.

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  • John Taylor,

    Please enlighten us as to what was reasonable about the deal ?

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  • Vinci Ho

    That is what Ellen McCourt said about this situation on Guardian. Not surprising , the pro- government media machinery had been switched on to dig deeper to explore the history of the protest leader and more shamefully , her family.
    ''The biggest risk with this contract, and also with this dispute continuing, is that doctors will leave the NHS,” said McCourt. “You can’t stretch us more thinly. There needs to be a plan – how are we going to make medicine more attractive to people? How are we going to make people stay in the NHS?”
    “I have some colleagues who took time out to work in New Zealand between their first two years of training and their speciality training, and they came back to the UK because they’d always planned on coming back to the UK,” she said. “Now they plan on leaving again. One is a general practice trainee and one is an emergency medicine trainee – our most under-recruited specialities.”
    She wrote to the SOS last month giving the reasons why the contract was rejected . “When he imposed the contract, he said in parliament: ‘My door is always open, I want to be able to address any outstanding problems’, so I took him at his word.”
    “I tried two weeks ago to get back in touch with the secretary of state to ask why haven’t we heard anything back and I could only get in touch with his special advisers; I couldn’t get in touch with him. And when we [met] on Tuesday it was very different – it was: ‘Well, you’re proposing industrial action so we haven’t responded’.
    “If we’d seen some response or some movement then we could have said, well, the government do want to talk to us, they are willing to make changes without us again resorting to industrial action.”

    “This contract financially disincentivises less-than-full-time trainees – carers, parents, who are predominately women, in a workforce that is predominantly women,” said McCourt.

    ''I would much rather be in a room with the government getting this sorted out than having to make the plans that we’re being forced to make, hearing that the press are hounding my family. I would much rather be talking with the government, with NHS employers to try and get an resolution to this.”

    Nigel , I think you should give her an interview.

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  • Message to Kailash and to editor Nigel -
    Kailash, I find it utterly unacceptable that your articles are not accompanied by a declaration of interest, of your many years as a member of the Labour Party, and that you recently tried to be selected as candidate to become a Labour MP. Your articles are not written by a doctor, they are written by a highly politicised opponent of the Conservatives and are very partisan.
    If there is any integrity you would have made this clear in every article.

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