I’m currently experiencing something akin to a mourning process for the junior doctors’ dispute. Over recent months they have patiently built up the case that their new contract is unsafe; is based on an evidence-free assertion that more JDs at weekends would deal with the probably fictitious ‘weekend effect’, and made their dissatisfaction manifest in a series of judiciously planned strikes which sought to protect the most vulnerable patients.
Our initial frustration at our inability to make anyone look at the evidence for the weekend effect, and to examine the government’s case (or lack of it) for pursuing a seven-day service, has diminished as even the mainstream media now accept that Hunt has misused the evidence, such as it is, and have publicised HMG’s total failure even to define what they mean by a ‘7-day NHS’. This is the direct result of the juniors’ action, and all that remained was to slowly turn the screw, playing on the public’s support for their campaign and Hunt’s increasingly isolated position.
But all that has been lost. By declaring a five-day strike at ten days’ notice, they have ceded the moral high ground to Hunt, something that would have seemed impossible a few days ago. We all know that the question of pay for Saturday working is a side issue, and that the real beef with the contract is that it is unfair, unsafe and unworkable given current staffing levels, a case which had traction with the public.
However, the government will now seize the opportunity presented by the precipitate and disproportionate industrial action being proposed, highlighting the Saturday pay issue to portray this as an example of politically and greed-motivated behaviour, no doubt harking back to the dark days of the seventies. And if the strikers are foolish enough to allow Jeremy Corbyn and the Socialist Workers Party to join them on the picket line, as has been mooted, they will have only themselves to blame when the public swallow the government’s line.
I put this point in an online medical forum, with entirely predictable results: I was told to grow a pair of ‘f***ing balls’, and who needs public opinion anyway? The answer to that last rhetorical question, of course, is that politicians need it – it’s their life blood, and they’ll lie through their teeth and misrepresent evidence shamelessly in order to get voters on their side (won’t they, Jeremy?).
But in this case, they no longer need to do that: the striking doctors have played into Hunt’s hands; hands which are no doubt being rubbed gleefully together as I write this.
Already, the right-wing press are seeking to undermine the strike leaders, by pointing out that Dr Ellen McCourt’s mother was a ‘political firebrand’ when she headed the RCN when it was in dispute with the government over nurses’ pensions in 2012, and this will just be the beginning. The media will seize on any evidence of crumbling support for the action, and will increasingly be singing Hunt’s tune.
And today, the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges AoMRC) came out against the planned action, being predictably pilloried as ‘selling out’ their juniors on that same forum which accused me of lacking gonads. I share the feeling that it would have been better if they had not joined the chorus protesting against the latest round of strikes, and I’m glad to see that ‘my’ College declined to support the statement.
Fortunately, the juniors who froth at the mouth on the internet, and accuse me and my generation of ‘taking their gongs* and selling the juniors out’ are not those who are actively involved in pursuing the dispute. The colleagues fronting the action have been, so far, remarkably calm and considered in the promotion of their case, in the face of enormous provocation by the lies and dissimulation of Hunt et al.
We must hope this continues, but I think they are going to find it increasingly difficult to get their message across in the teeth of the torrent of misinformation that will be coming from the government side in the run-up to the strikes, and their aftermath.
When I express these views, the automatic assumption of (some) junior colleagues is that I am not on their side. On the contrary, I have supported, and continue to support them strongly; this is why I feel such distress at their latest moves, which seem to me to represent an extreme example of shooting yourself in the foot. I hope I’m proved wrong, but today’s media coverage is not hopeful.
Incidentally, I note that this is the second contribution today which takes a negative view of the juniors’ action, and I suspect this will be one occasion when we get some feedback to our blogs. Hope you’ve got your tin hat on, Tom.
*DOI: my only medal is a bronze one, for ballroom dancing, awarded in c.1960.