In another serious strike by junior doctors, there are fears that a covert plan is at work to undermine the country’s healthcare system
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has lent his support to the junior doctors’ strike ahead of their first 48-hour walkout only a few days ago. But surely doctors’ strikes will lead to chaos, illness, death running rampant! And all of it the fault of the doctors themselves. That’s what Jeremy Hunt would have you believe, but what’s the truth?
Why are they striking?
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has imposed a crushing new contract on junior doctors that many experts believe may lead to disaster.
The apparent motivation for this new contract is something known as ‘the weekend effect’. This refers to the fact that the percentage of deaths in hospitals increases over the weekend. Therefore, Mr Hunt has chosen to stretch the hours of junior doctors to provide more care during these days. Te policy appears to make sense in isolation until we take a look at the wider picture.
There are safeguards in place for a reason. The more hours a doctor works, the more tired they get and the more liable they are to make mistakes. The same can be said of any profession. If a blacksmith was forced to work a seven-day week under intense pressure, no doubt he would make more mistakes than usual. The difference is these mistakes don’t cost people their lives.
Concerning the weekend effect, it is important to note that while the numbers may look bad on paper it is in fact the case that less people die in hospital on the weekend overall. And in an irony that would be funny were it not so dire, Hunt’s insistence on there not being an effective NHS has led to people avoiding hospitals during the weekends. This has resulted in serious illnesses and even deaths. Austerity cannot be applied to healthcare. A seven-day NHS cannot run on five days of funding.
Why is it bad for doctors?
Doctors are receiving a 13.5 per cent pay increase to compensate for the new contract. However, there is no additional funding being offered, so junior doctors fear the current workforce will be spread too thinly and that rotas will be understaffed more often during the week, endangering patients and further hurting people in a profession that is already prone to mental illness and fatigue. Clare Gerada of a confidential health service for doctors, says that 50 per cent of new patients are doctors under 30 suffering from depression, anxiety, and even symptoms similar to PTSD due to their already overstretched, underfunded hospital work.
In the kind of blindness to the obvious we’ve come to expect from Mr Hunt, the Health Secretary announced a unilateral imposition of the new contract while also commissioning an independent review of doctors’ experiences of their NHS training in order ‘… to better understand the longstanding issue of low morale’. Thankfully the Academy’s own Trainee Doctors’ Group (ATDG) responded more lucidly, saying perhaps it would be more sensible to look into such things ‘at a time when the profession is not engaged in industrial action’ — something which is hard to read without a twinge of sarcasm.
The Cass Business School has suggested that many ambiguities of the new contract could lead to increased disruption of doctors’ circadian rhythm, including; increased isolation and severe impact to their physical and mental health. Put simply, your doctors just may be putting their life in danger to save yours. It would be poetic were it not so easily avoidable.
Furthermore, there are plans to drop automatic annual pay increases which, according to the government’s own assessment, would disproportionately hinder female doctors on maternity leave.
The walkout this week is unprecedented in British history but the junior doctors could very well launch indefinite strike action under plans put forward by members the British Medical Association. This would of course mean no set return date for striking junior doctors.
Why is it bad for you?
In what can only be described as a complete lack of self-awareness, Health Minister Ben Gummer said the junior doctors’ consideration of further action shows ‘a regrettable disregard for patient care’. In response, BMA junior doctor chair Dr Johann Malawana stated that what happens after the strike is ‘entirely down to the government’.
Dr Johann Malawana gave an impassioned plea to the government:
‘The crucial message however is this; it is not too late to end this dispute and call off next week’s action entirely. For the sake of patients as well as doctors, the government must listen to concerns from all sides calling on it to lift imposition, sit down with junior doctors and end this dispute through talks’.
Worryingly, the country may even be losing its doctors over this! In the last two years medical school applications have fallen by 13.5 per cent. This can be blamed primarily on the barrage of negative publicity towards the NHS as well as the massive inflation of the cost of a university education.
As for the doctors we do have, many of them may be leaving. The number of doctors applying for documentation to work abroad has more than doubled from just over 4,000 in 2014 to 8,627 in 2015. It also bears mentioning that this number rose a staggering 1,000 per cent the day Jeremy Hunt imposed the new contract.
Is this the path to privatization?
Noam Chomsky summed up the path to privatization extremely succinctly:
‘That’s the standard technique of privatization: defund, make sure things don’t work, people get angry, you hand it over to private capital’.
Mr Corbyn has clearly taken these words to heart, suggesting that the defunding and degradation of the NHS is an attempt to promote the private sector:
‘I just sometimes wonder if there isn’t a deeper agenda here — to gradually reduce the efficiency and effectiveness of the National Health Service at the same time as promoting the private medical industry’.
Bad for everyone
So all in all the imposition of the new contract for junior doctors is bad for doctors, bad for patients, and bad for the country as a whole. At best it is an example of abusing power for the sake of it, at worst it could lead to the degradation of one of the most important and valuable institutions in our country.
Healthcare is a right and we will stand with our junior doctors in defending our NHS.