Editors’ Letter 2016 No. 1 – The Strikes have Struck Again

[box] It may be new year but we’ve the same old Government indifference [/box]

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The year may have changed but the Government’s attitude towards junior doctors has not. The strikes have struck again. Despite negotiations between the BMA, the Department of Health and Acas, no agreement could be reached between the parties. Industrial action, initially pencilled in during December off of the back of a staggering 98% mandate has been rescheduled for three days over the next month, with the first walk out happening on 12th January, a second 48 hour strike on the 26th and a third on 10th February.

Some have speculated that the BMA jumped the gun in walking out of negotiations in order to maintain the legitimacy of their mandate, something that would have lapsed come 4pm on Monday. However, it is also evident that Jeremy Hunt was unable (at best) and unwilling (at worst) to concede that the proposed contract posed a threat to the lives of both patients and the doctors treating them. In the words of the BMA’s Mark Porter, the Government were at no point able to “take the concerns of junior doctors seriously”.

A recent poll conducted by TheStudentRoom surveyed almost 1,550 students hoping to study medicine in the years to come and found that 37% of them had changed their minds recently as a result of the Government’s apparent disdain towards the NHS and its staff. As it stands, why would they want to work in an environment met with such animosity, let alone study for five years first? With the recent changes to student nursing bursaries also being met with condemnation from those working in the NHS, solidarity between medical professions, as well as the ranks joining them shortly, is as strong as ever. If Hunt hoped that the negotiation period would go some way to quieten a vocal workforce, January brought doctors howling louder than ever.

It must be stated that although industrial action was voted for with a huge majority, the opinion amongst doctors and medical students is still one of reluctance; that we have been forced into strike action as a result of governmental non-engagement and political spin. Nobody working in the NHS wants to compromise the care of patients. Doctors are striking because in the long term, a despondent, depressed and fatigued workforce will provide far more of a threat to patient safety than three sets of strike action will.

The spin machine would have you believe, via the Daily Mail or the Telegraph, that doctors are intent on harming patients, the harbingers of death, wolves in docs’ clothing. It is a shame therefore that a poll of the British public revealed doctors as being the most trustworthy professionals and the politicians the least. A finding that proved to be true recently when theGovernment conceded that a previous claim regarding when they delivered the latest offer to the BMA was in fact a lie. Initially, the Department of Health stated that a proposal was given to the BMA on New Year’s Day but eventually admitted that they had not delivered the offer until 11am on 4th January. That the Government has neglected to consider that the NHS would benefit from a reform of social care, a crisis waiting in the wings, is unfortunate, but to lie to the public in order to change the tide of opinion is unforgivable.

Several stories in the media have been brought to my attention recently. One, widely shared on social media and published in The Guardian, is the harrowing tale of one junior doctor’s battle with depression and suicidal intentions in a system that brutalises junior doctors. Suicide is, as the author describes, the medical profession’s “grubby little secret”. A second in The Independent is a journalist’s encounter with a medical student working as a waitress in a restaurant. The setting, one enjoying leisure time and the other working long past the constraints of her day job, perfectly encapsulated the situation that junior doctors find themselves in. Social lives will always be compromised because as doctors and medical students we prioritise the care of others over ourselves, a sentiment that, shamefully, continues to pass our politicians by.

Rob Cleaver

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