Having a doctor on standby on weekends takes more than amending a contract clause


I was welcomed with chants of ‘Save Our NHS’ outside the Western Park in Sheffield, where I briefly joined junior doctors, medical professionals and medical students in the most recent round of strikes in England. The protest concerned Jeremy Hunt’s most recent spat with the British Medical Association over junior doctors’ pay. A significant grievance expressed at the strike was Hunt’s rejection of the BMA’s proposal for a rise in junior doctors’ basic pay in return for Saturdays being treated as a ‘normal working day’.

The government’s flat rejection of the offer has been met with strikes across NHS England which the BBC reports as having led to the cancellation of 2,800 operations.

Speaking to two medical students, I was interested to hear their opinions on the strike which has received a mixture of criticism and praise from the British media.

My immediate impression of the strike, as Tim and Joseph referred to in their interview, was that there was an overwhelming sense of solidarity among the protesters; these people were not sacrificing their afternoon lightheartedly.

The strikers have received some public condemnation over the cancellation of operations across England and there seemed to be a definite sense of inconvenience underlying these criticisms. Tim’s reply to these comments were as follows:

‘It is an inconvenience for patients — but would you rather be inconvenienced ten years down the line with a junior doctor who is incredibly tired?’

Clearly the long-term implications of the contract were at play here. There have been worries that doctors are being forced to work longer hours whilst also having to cope with the unexpected nature of their job, which requires a professional response to injuries as diverse as a broken foot to a stroke.

Another issue at hand was the government’s cuts to nursing grants. The cut to maintenance grants is an issue affecting students across the UK, and not just the nursing population, but for the protesters these cuts had much wider implications for the NHS.

‘The student nurses are having their grants cut which sums up the pathway to privatisation. It discourages homegrown nurses from going into training and opens up a path for foreign investment and the private recruitment of foreign nurses’.

The NHS, or the National Health Service, is indeed a symbol of pride for Britain. Its creation in 1948 under Clement Attlee’s Labour Government was a radical gesture that defined Britain’s post-war progression in social welfare.  This history had not been forgotten by the protesters, and if anything, I felt their strike was an attempt to reclaim this past achievement. The obvious sentiment was an unwavering belief in the capability of the NHS and a passion for maintaining excellent standards of healthcare and patient support — visions not so dissimilar from those held by Attlee in the 1940s. ‘Save Our NHS’ carried a more honest translation as ‘Save Our History’.

As one student rightly stated: ‘The NHS is the best healthcare service in the world in terms of freedom of access and in terms of health outcomes’.

Now I am not a medical student, nor do I proclaim to have any medical knowledge at all; but what I learnt from this protest was that to have an NHS where staff are demotivated and exhaustingly pressured in their work, will only lead to the demise of what is an internationally reputable institution. As a patient, I want an NHS where there is collaboration between the medical professionals and the government, and where problems can be constructively discussed without resorting to a picket line.

‘It is an honour to work for the NHS and be a part of a country that has such a great healthcare system, and this is what I want to see in 50 years’ time’.

And I am sure you do to.

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