A stark reminder as to why we need to criticise the government, not the people on the front line in hospitals, was delivered this week. Junior doctors in England have walked out in their first strike in forty years, backed by 98 per cent of those balloted by the British Medical Association (BMA).
Normally, politicians would attempt to question the integrity of those who decide to take industrial action, but not in this case. The overwhelming support for action clearly shows the state of discontent, anger, and frustration with the government’s (namely Jeremy Hunt’s) efforts to undermine the service, safety, and working conditions within the NHS. The message is clear, they are trying to push the NHS in the wrong direction and junior doctors will not stand for it.
Junior doctors make up one in three medical workers; they are not students in their early 20s. They are qualified professionals who are ‘junior’ doctors for 10-15 years after they graduate from university.
They do not stand around watching ‘real’ doctors save lives, it is them on the front line in surgery and them walking the wards. They are paid less than many other graduate professions, especially those that work in the city, and often have to work ridiculous antisocial hours. They make up the majority of cover on the weekends and on night shifts. In summary, they work damn hard.
So what is their reward? A new contract proposal that slashed unsociable hours pay by 25 per cent, made Saturday a normal working day, and extended the normal working day from 7am to 10pm. Unsafe maximum shift lengths are now 13 hours as is the possibility of working four 13 hour night shifts in a row.
The government’s new contract proposals go much further than decreasing the pay that junior doctors receive. They force junior doctors to work even more antisocial hours, with longer shifts if they want to make up for lost income. People, who more than anyone, deserve a good work-life balance. Who wants to be treated by a tired, overworked, and despondent junior doctor? This strike is about protecting the core of the NHS.
The contract endangers the safety of patients and reveals a disregard for the people who dedicate their lives to treating them. Rather than focusing on ways to retain the 50 per cent of junior doctors that do not complete their training after their first two foundation years of training, Jeremy Hunt’s only response is to make the situation worse, delivering a poorer working environment and irregular hours.
Thankfully, the public are behind the action, with two-thirds backing the strikes. But then how can you argue with almost the entire workforce of junior doctors? Possibly the most intelligent and compassionate people this country has to offer, they are public servants who deserve respect. It is clear that the trust between the Health Secretary and the medical profession has been entirely broken.
40 per cent of junior doctors worked on Tuesday, the day of the strike, not because they ignored the advice of the BMA like Jeremy Hunt tried to make out, but because they had to. They had to keep the NHS functioning, because they are willing to put others before themselves every day. So when you hear from the government that these strikes are “totally unnecessary”, remember what the strikes are about and why they are doing it. They are fighting for our NHS.