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Diary of an FY2 – Bleeding Out

April 7, 2016

Today I’ve been on the picket line outside of Worthwhile General, protesting the Department of Health’s imposition of a new contract for junior doctors. It was cold but mercifully dry, and the vast majority of the public passing by gave us their support. Meanwhile, those providing emergency cover persevered inside the hospital.

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“Do you hear the people sing? Singing the song of angry men~”

This is the fourth such industrial action this year, and the second since Jeremy Hunt decided that he was done with negotiating and imposed the contract. Seven weeks later, and the proposed contract was written published. Since then, the BMA and the junior doctors have attempted to re-open negotiations – with nil effect. Meanwhile, there are two campaigns to drag the contract and Jeremy Hunt through the law courts.

Now there’s only four months until that contract comes into effect – And where exactly are we?

The beginning of the year was a blur. So many hot takes, clamouring to leave their opinion on top of the pile, amidst the daily onslaught of news and mis-news. Since then, the facts have begun to settle, and perspectives have had time to solidify. We’re told we’re getting a 13% pay-rise…but on a cost-neutral pay-packet. There’ll be more doctors around on weekends…but there won’t be any more doctors, so that means there’ll be fewer doctors during the week.

And what exactly are 7 day services?

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The BMA have been trying hard to restart negotiations with the Department of Health for a fairer contract, but from Jeremy Hunt’s point-of-view, why should he? He’s got what he wants – the junior doctor contract has been sealed, and work is underway on the consultant contract. What is there for him to gain? He is so toxic as a Health Secretary that, I think, there is nothing he can realistically do to placate the junior doctors.

But the industrial action must be putting pressure on the Government, I hear you cry. But…have they? The Department of Health remains as entrenched as it was in February. Outpatient clinics and elective operations have been postponed, but what real impact have these days of industrial action had? Is Jeremy Hunt feeling the heat? What heat?!

Maybe things will change with the next strike. All-out walk-out. I know a lot of doctors are finding that hard to act on in good conscience, worrying for their patients. Others accept a temporary risk now to protect their patients in the future from a contract that is unfair and unsafe. For others, it is their last resort against a government proving itself stubbornly deaf. A play not without risk but worth it if it can open new negotiations.

But it is a risk that our patients have to pay.

Based on previous experience, I don’t think today’s industrial action will change anything. And I have my doubts that even the all-out walk-out will have the desired impact. Some commentators have described these strikes as a Micawber play – keeping the issue alive until “something turns up” (from elsewhere; the judicial review one hopes?).

It’s hard not to feel a little deflated. The zombie junior contract continues to drag on without any convincing signs of life, and the prognosis doesn’t look set to change.

It would be galling to concede defeat in this junior contract fight. It has been the touchpoint for various grievances of junior doctors and there is a real sense that the profession has joined together in union. Everyone is so passionately convinced that this new contract will be awful, for all sorts of reasons. “We are right and we must fight!” the rallying cry goes out. And Jeremy Hunt replies, “So what?” Where is the value in continuing to fight when the outcome is not going to change?

Could there be anything more demoralising than giving up the fight when you’re convinced you’re in the right? After all the emotion, enthusiasm and passion that has been sunk into this fight, I think submitting to this contract would cripple junior doctor morale.

Of those that don’t head off to Australia/New Zealand/Canada (Delete as appropriate)

Of those that don’t leave medicine altogether.

I really don’t want to be right about this. But so far, there’s been nothing to convince me otherwise. But hey, something might turn up. Right?

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One Comment leave one →
  1. April 10, 2016 2:20 pm

    As always Rhys .. tell as it is….

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