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Issue #1748      September 14, 2016

NHS being set up to fail

On August 31 the British Medical Association (BMA) council voted to endorse a program of further industrial action, proposed by the junior doctors committee (JDC), just weeks before the first group of junior doctors are to be faced with the new contract. Strike action is planned for October, November and December.

Consultants and others medics not classified as junior doctors will be staffing the National Health Service (NHS), as was the case during strike action taken earlier this year, in order to ensure our patients are not left without medical assistance.

Taking strike action is not something I, or my colleagues, do willingly or without significant forethought. The media spin is once again in overdrive and on cue to portray junior doctors as reckless anarchists who are striking to the detriment of patients in order to score political points.

One does not need a medical degree to figure out that individuals who make immense sacrifices to get into and through medical school, to be followed upon graduation by further sacrifices to their free time, comfort, social and family lives (to the extent that their own physical and mental health sometimes suffers) in order to care for the sick, would suddenly choose to put patients at risk and lose a week’s pay while doing so. Junior doctors, like most other people, are only a pay cheque or two away from being unable to pay their mortgages or rent or put food on the table.

From my perspective, I am not just a doctor working in the NHS. I also use the NHS, as do my partner and family. As anyone who has visited a hospital during the weekend will tell you, a seven-day NHS already exists, albeit one staffed by overworked and overstretched staff.

Jeremy Hunt’s claim, based upon carefully chosen statistics – that an additional 6,000 annual deaths occur during the weekend – has been soundly debunked. Furthermore, a report leaked by the Department of Health earlier this year indicated that there was no evidence that increased staffing levels on weekends would actually reduce mortality among patients admitted during those days, removing a linchpin from Hunt’s argument that extra staff are needed.

The report also showed that if hospitals are to function on weekends, as they do Monday to Friday, an additional 11,000 staff (including doctors and nurses) would be required, on top of an annual cost of £900 million.

Further evidence indicating junior doctors are already overstretched is provided by the Mind the Rota Gap study which showed that in London, as across the rest of England, there is a massive shortage of junior doctors.

This often results in extra work being piled upon existing medics or gaps in rotas not being filled.

Further depleting existing junior doctor numbers Monday to Friday, in order to spread us out across the whole week, will not only put patients at risk during the first five days of the week but will also not reduce weekend mortality.

We all want to give our existing and potential patients, which include ourselves, our colleagues and our families, the very best possible care but we desperately need the additional staff and funding to do so.

Otherwise the NHS is being set up to fail in order to usher in a system of private healthcare, perhaps even a US-style healthcare system, complete with the shortcomings for those unable to afford what is surely a human right.

I wish Hunt, on behalf of the Conservative government, would support rather than damage a strained NHS and return to negotiations to create a contract that allows patients to receive the best possible care within a well-funded system staffed by rested doctors.

Our opponents have recently started saying that we are striking to reject a contract our own union endorsed.

This is a classic example of spin. In reality, the new contract was endorsed by Johann Malawana, former JDC chair and a single individual, who subsequently honourably announced his resignation once BMA members voted to reject the offer.

For a single individual does not a union make and the JDC itself never issued any formal statement endorsing the contract or suggesting how its 45,000 members should vote.

Abiding by the wishes of the majority, the JDC started formulating plans for further industrial action when, in early July, it was announced that 58 percent of voting BMA members had rejected the contract.

Industrial action will undoubtedly disrupt services and cause inconvenience – it would be a futile course of action if it did not, but the alternative of a situation where further strain is placed upon the NHS and its staff, without the concurrent funding required, and more demoralised health professionals leave the NHS, leading to its collapse and subsequent privatisation would be far worse and virtually irreversible.

I am upset that we are pushed into taking strike action. However, I am also acutely aware of the long-term consequences of not taking action and realise that once the NHS is pushed to fail and disappears, the effects will be long-lasting and far more damaging to all of us than a few days of inconvenience.

Cutting into flesh to remove diseased tissues may seem macabre but the risk of leaving the situation to fester puts the entire body at risk.

Over the past several months, the BMA has received huge support from the public and across the trade union movement – we are acting in the interests of the public and could not undertake such a course of action without their support. For this we are immensely grateful.

A recent ITV poll showed that, at the time of writing, 85 percent of 53,000 voted Yes to the question “Do you support the latest strike by junior doctors?”

It probably comes as no surprise that around 70 MPs, including David Cameron and Hunt, are believed to have links with private healthcare companies.

This begs the question: how many Conservative Party MPs and their rich backers use the NHS? Such individuals are of course wealthy enough to afford private healthcare.

One can see that, at best, they would be indifferent to the collapse of a public health service, and at worst might actively profit from the expansion of private healthcare.

In the final analysis, however, the attacks on the NHS are due neither to the personal interests and lifestyles of Tory Cabinet ministers, but are the result of the crisis of capitalism, which demands austerity and cuts.

As a major component of public spending, the government is forced to attack the NHS and its junior doctors in order to sustain the only sickly patient that they care about: the capitalist system.

Morning Star

Next article – Film review – Our Little Sister

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