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Leaked junior doctors’ messages are no cause for hysteria

So apparently the junior doctors negotiators had a different private strategy to their public one. The outrage has been widespread, with the Junior Doctors Committee accused of misleading the public and their members, and holding unnecessary strikes.

The leaked What’s App messages show that the JDC wanted to prolong the dispute, wanted the Government to impose a contract and wanted to ‘drag out’ the industrial action.

But I, for one, am slightly underwhelmed by the whole fuss.

Negotiators in any walk of life – be industrial action, business takeovers or international politics – have darker secret strategies that they would not want made public. Sadly, in politics, you have to play dirty. If you think otherwise, your naivety is touching.

The JDC did a good job in convincing the public it was a black and white issue. But in the real world, there are grey areas and there is no one side that is always completely in the right.

There were definite patient safety concerns at the start – the Government was trying to further stretch an already stretched service.

Juniors won these concessions, and the official message did shift subtly from one of patient safety to one of fairness. By this point, the patient safety message had been so powerful that it remained lodged in the public’s consciousness.

The leaked messages reveal that much of the dispute towards the end revolved around money, specifically the reduction in incentives for working Saturdays. This might not sit so well with the public. But – for a profession – is that not worthy of an industrial dispute?

In reality, their priority was looking after their members’ interests. Considering that they are a trade union paid by member subscriptions, this isn’t exactly a scandal. 

The fact is that the health secretary was willing to impose a contract from the start in order to fulfil a manifesto commitment that was not supported by evidence. The juniors have managed to overturn this through a very well managed campaign.

The patient safety aspects may have been overblown – but, once they won concessions on this, the BMA’s official message did very subtly change from ‘patient safety’ to the ‘future of the profession’.

And they were right – recent evidence does seem to show that graduates have been put off medical training as a result of the threatened contract imposition.

Just a final word on the leaking of the messages. It was a great scoop by HSJ (as much as I am loathe to admit it). And they had every right to publish it, regardless of the criticism they have had.

Maybe the lesson to come out of this is never write anything down that you don’t want made public.  

Jaimie Kaffash, news editor of Pulse