Jeremy Hunt has taken his own electoral rhetoric and confused it for a policy
The junior doctor dispute has escalated. 98 per cent voted yesterday to take industrial action with a turnout of 76 per cent. It’s clear the medical profession are eager to express their frustration with the health secretary.
Few could blame them. Jeremy Hunt has tried to bulldoze the profession into capitulation, threatening to impose a new contract without the consent of those who will be affected. This is a disgraceful and disgusting way to treat hardworking and dedicated health professionals.
Those who chose the vocation of medicine live by the principles of the Hippocratic Oath. The decision to take strike action is not one taken lightly. The overwhelming support from within the profession for industrial action, a profession which has not been on strike for 40 years, is a sign of the depth of the anger and disappointment towards the government.
Junior doctors, alongside nurses and paramedics, are at the frontline of the NHS. They work long shifts, every hour of the day, every day of the week, every week of the year. They go to work and face emotional and physical stress, make life changing decisions and care for those who need it the most.
Jeremy Hunt has taken his own electoral rhetoric and confused it for a policy.
He wants to make doctors work fewer hours for patient safety, but also wants junior doctors to work more shifts to cover weekends – which they already work – and pay them less for it.
He claims to be creating a seven-day NHS, as if we do not already have a seven day service. Is there a day when you cannot go to A&E in an emergency?
For Jeremy Hunt this is a down the line cost saving measure. He is going to raise the basic pay but simultaneously cut top-up pay for the weekend and night shifts. This looks like an 11 per cent pay rise but will actually be an overall pay cut.
Jeremy Hunt is also planning to take on other parts of the NHS over pay, including nurses. This plan of negotiating individual contracts could easily be perceived as an attempt to divide and rule.
Morale has felt incredibly low in the NHS as the service struggles under the demands of an ageing population and lack of investment. GPs are requesting certificates to practice abroad at a higher rate than ever.
In London alone, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has found that 8,000 nurse places are unfilled. This is the real threat to patient care but it seems Jeremy Hunt has no plans to tackle it.
There is common ground where both sides can meet, but not while one side is using misplaced macho tactics. Bringing in professional arbitration would go a long way to restoring the trust between the profession and the health secretary.
The only condition should be that the final decision has to be binding, for the doctors and the government.
Dr Onkar Sahota is a member of the Greater London Assembly for Ealing and Hillingdon, as well as a practicing GP in West London. He is chairman of the Assembly Health Committee
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