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Hunt’s ‘divisive approach’ to junior doctors is not helping the public

Almost all junior doctors in the NHS, in non-emergency roles, including GP trainees, are due to strike for 24 hours from 8am tomorrow. The public and politicians must not doubt that junior doctors have a deep commitment to the NHS and their patients. The NHS is in their DNA. The last thing they want to do is to cause disruption to patient care but they feel this is now their only option.

Before the last election, David Cameron promised ‘A truly seven day NHS’ in his election manifesto. However, it had one major problem: he didn’t have any money to fund this nor indeed has he defined what he meant by it. The idea that the Prime Minister can conjure up an excellent week-round service by forcing already stretched junior doctors to work longer for less is a delusion. When the present service is practically on its knees, it makes no sense to stretch it further.

An imposition would not only infuriate junior doctors, it will equally draw the wrath of the entire NHS family, at a time when morale is already at rock bottom.

It is well accepted that Jeremy Hunt has distorted statistics about weekend deaths to try and frighten the public into supporting his objectives. And he is still refusing to acknowledge that he has scared patients and the public, and angered NHS staff by misrepresenting statistics. Junior doctors already work seven days a week, what doesn’t happen at the weekend is elected surgeries, outpatient clinics and a lot of the subsidiary services. If you wish to run the NHS so that those services are available at the weekend then you need to employ additional staff, not make the current staff work longer.

Ben Gummer MP, a health minister, made the strongest threat yet to force the seven-day NHS contract on medics against their will. Ministers keep reminding us, that most of the private sector, TESCO etc,work weekends without extra pay. Frankly, the most damage an over tired Tesco worker can do is stock the shelves wrong or not work a till properly. An over tired doctor makes poor decision that can lead to life changing situation for their patients.

Junior doctors are not well paid: they start at £23k, go up to £35k when they begin specialist training, and at the top of the junior tree – that is, in their late 30s – they can reach £70K.The dispute is not about doctors seeking more pay, even though like most NHS workers they have effectively seen a pay cut over the past eight years with the freeze in public pay awards. It is about producing a safe and fair contract for all junior doctors no matter what specialty they work in or what stage of their career they are at. Junior doctors love the NHS but if this dispute continues many more doctors will follow the current trend and leave the country to work abroad as they feel disillusioned and unhappy with how they have been treated by this government. An exodus of junior doctors could prove to be the straw that breaks the NHS terminally. 

The Independent is claiming today that Jeremy Hunt vetoed a deal to end the junior doctor dispute which was supported by the NHS’s own negotiators. Mr Hunt’s strategy now is to exhaust the junior doctors, hope that more of them turn up for work during next week’s strike and hope that the industrial action fizzles out and then impose the contract in August. An imposition would not only infuriate junior doctors, it will equally draw the wrath of the entire NHS family, at a time when morale is already at rock bottom.The unfair and unjust proposals by Hunt, have united both junior and senior members of the medical profession, GPs and consultants have taken to social media to offer to stand in for junior doctors in the event of a strike. I like most of the medical fraternity, support the junior doctor’s industrial action. It’s not to punish the public, it’s to save the NHS and its people.

If Mr Hunt wants to resolve the dispute, he should be working with the BMA and the junior doctors to achieve a common goal, rather than labeling the BMA ‘irresponsible’. A divisive approach is not in his interests; nor does it serve the public.