Jeremy Hunt has got it wrong: junior doctors are not the enemy within

02 Sep 2016
The government is seeking to portray the five-day strikes as militant,  out-of-touch doctors flexing their muscles. Nothing could be further from the truth write Diane Abbott MP.

The first ever all-out strike in the NHS took place under David Cameron’s Tory government. The very first five-day strike in the NHS is now set to take place under Theresa May, unless the government sees sense. This is the Tory record on the NHS.
Jeremy Hunt says there is always tension between health secretaries and NHS staff.
Tension is one thing, strike action is unprecedented. The government is attempting to portray this entirely as a result of unreasonable, militant or even out-of-touch and overpaid junior doctors flexing their
muscles. Nothing could be further from the truth.
In psychology, this is known as projection. The government is blaming NHS workers for its own failings. It is flexing its own muscles. It’s possible that junior doctors are just the first group of workers who will be targeted for the unreasonable imposition of contracts without negotiation. The Conservative government is also out of touch with public opinion. Of course the public dislikes the disruption, and may even be fearful of its consequences. But people are clear that the blame for this lies with the government itself.
The government’s anti-doctor propaganda campaign should not be allowed to obscure a central truth about the crisis. Far from being able to deliver a seven-day NHS it is clear the existing procedures of the  NHS are not sustainable because of government underfunding. On virtually all measures NHS performance is deteriorating, and waiting lists are growing across the board. Hospital trusts are racking up enormous debts because they are being asked to do more with less, and the waste of PFI. Targets for ambulance waiting times, A&E consultations, GP access and cancer referral times are all being missed.
The target for elective surgeries is that they should be performed within 18 weeks. According to the Patients Association the target was missed for 92,739 people in 2015, a rise of more than 40,000 in a single year. This should be borne in mind when Hunt points the finger at junior doctors and blames them for postponed operations.
Patients are already waiting inordinate periods of time for operations, often suffering painful or debilitating conditions.
This throws into sharp relief the central cause of the dispute, the attempt to impose seven-day working without the resources to fund it.
Current resources are insufficient to adequately fund the so-called five-day NHS. The mantra that the NHS must do more with less has become “the NHS must do much, much more with less”. It is infeasible.
As the junior doctors point out, most NHS services are available at the weekend and most doctors work weekends as part of their rotas. The government is not introducing something wholly new, just something
wholly unworkable without resources. The danger is that the changes to the rotas will increase risk to patients. Doctors might end up working even longer hours.
All of this is avoidable. The BMA junior doctors committee is willing to enter talks about the contract. The government could approach the aim of creating a seven-day NHS in a collaborative way.
Our health service relies above all on the skill and professionalism of its staff. They are the key asset in preserving and improving the NHSto meet new needs. Nothing useful can be achieved by this government  treating hard-working junior doctors like “the enemy within”.

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