Dr V. Wagner, a local member of the National Health Action Party Executive writing here in a personal capacity, explains why junior doctors are being compelled to taking industrial action between 26th and 28th January 2016.
We have to look back to the 1970s to find any previous walk-outs by doctors. Back then they marched though the streets of Brighton in their white coats.
Just last month, 20,000 junior doctors and their supporters marched through the streets of London, holding up thousands of placards with names of colleagues who wanted to march but were at work, covering emergency work and on-call duty, from duty surgeons to on-call laboratory doctors.
What is it that has so politicised doctors, for the first time in over a generation?
For the answer, we again need to look back through history. For decades a highly cost-effective and socially just public service, the NHS has been a thorn in the side of those who have wanted to profit financially from healthcare. Step by step, mechanisms have gradually been put in place to enable profit to be derived from healthcare. This started with hospital cleaners and moved via catering and IT to the outsourcing of actual clinical services run by private firms under the NHS logo. In the near future, expect to see private health firms gaining influence in decision-making over how NHS money is going to be spent (or not).
Staff costs are a big part of the NHS budget, and anyone wanting to make money out of healthcare would want to minimise these costs. Therefore new contracts for health workers are being brought in, including for junior doctors. The government wish to impose the junior doctor contract unilaterally from August 2016, whilst only being prepared to negotiate on one out of 23 contract points. The contract would remove financial penalties for hospitals that currently ensure that doctors are not being overworked to unsafe levels. It is likely, then, that doctors would find themselves rostered for even more hours than they currently work. For this privilege, they will suffer a pay cut of 20-40% and be entitled to no more than one 20 minute break for every 11 or 12 hours worked.
This contract is highly unsafe for patients and also for doctors. In the past, doctors have died, as it were, falling asleep at the wheel. Tired doctors make more mistakes at work – so much so that a respected medical negligence lawyer has spoken out for junior doctors and against the new contract.
Whether we are patients, relatives, doctors, other health professionals or members of the public who will need the NHS in future, we need to support junior doctors and save the NHS from privatisation whilst we are at it.
Photography by Jon Woods.