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The post-strike fallout

Two things struck me in the post junior doctors strike fallout.

I did sod all to help

First, there was that nice letter from Mr Hunt thanking NHS staff for keeping services running during the industrial action. Well, Jezza, I think you should know that, personally, I did sod all to help. Even if I’d wanted to, and I didn’t, I couldn’t have blocked appointments to cope with a surge in demand. How could I, when, thanks to your own policies, workload and recruitment headaches mean I’m booked up about a year ahead, like just about every other GP I know?

That aside, I couldn’t help but notice the staff Mr Hunt wanted to pay tribute to included, ‘Thousands of dedicated nurses, doctors, paramedics, GPs…’ That’s right. Doctors and GPs. We thought we were medically qualified when in fact we’ve just been locked in some endless Youth Opportunities Scheme.

Second, there was the revelation that A&Es up and down the land were quiet and functional during the strike – a fact I can confirm given that, as duty doctor, I was able to get people at the hospital end to pick up phones, discuss patients, provide information and accept urgent admissions without me having to threaten physical violence. And that’s very interesting. Because it means the worried well/slightly ill were suddenly, without detriment to themselves, able to steer clear of health services on the basis that those health services were no longer perceived to be available.

In other words, the unprecedented emergency walk-out turned into a massive behavioural sciences experiment proving, as if we didn’t know already, that ‘illness threshold’ is a function of service provision.

And the converse of that, of course, is that the pursuit of policies such as 8 to 8, 7/7 will simply generate work, given that work will always expand to fill the space available. Or, if you’d rather, nature abhors a vacuum. Though if that is the case, then why hasn’t Jezza’s head imploded?

Dr Tony Copperfield is a GP in Essex. You can follow him on Twitter @DocCopperfield