That Jeremy Hunt survived PM Theresa May’s “night of the long knives” suggests that she still retains a modicum of confidence in him (or that the hole he is digging for himself is not yet deep enough). The same cannot be said for the Chairman of the BMA Council, Dr Mark Porter.
Interviewed on the Radio4 Today programme by the redoubtable Nick Robinson over the impending series of junior doctor strikes he came over as belligerent and defensive, as well as sounding as if he was suffering from a bad dose of “man flu”.
In May the BMA leadership reached agreement with the SoS over the new contract and recommended it to their members who, in turn, rejected it triggering the resignation of the Junior’s leader Dr Johann Malawana in July. All was quiet over the summer until the announcement of an ongoing series of five day strikes each month until Christmas, starting on September 12th.
Nick Robinson, who had clearly received a tip-off, pressed Dr Porter three times on the question of the vote in the Council as to whether it was true that the split had been only 16 to 14 in favour of further strike action, and that the consultant and GP representatives were largely against it. Dr Porter turned political and refused to answer so I have drawn my own conclusion.
Having recommended the contract to the juniors there is now clearly a huge split in the BMA over this issue.
I suspect Dr Porter is in the unenviable position of having to defend to the public a course of action with which he disagrees.
It is difficult to understand why this conflict rumbles on, other that the fact that the junior docs are pissed off with the Government for imposing a contract which their own leaders had accepted. No clear new principle has emerged to fuel the debate and the virtue signalling present at the start of the dispute (save our NHS) has given way to the more prosaic moans that payment rates for overtime are too low. Otherwise the objectives for the current strike are far from clear. The BMA state that the new contract will cause a crisis in the workforce, but this is a rather nebulous statement with no supporting evidence that I can see.
The “seven day NHS” has been mentioned, and like Brexit no one is quite sure what this exactly means, but it is clearly a no brainer. Given the current resources the NHS is struggling to deliver a five day let alone a seven day service no matter how it is configured.
But it is one thing for the juniors to vote against the contract, but quite another for them to support such damaging action against patients, even though Jeremy Hunt has become a hate figure for many of them. I must say that if I was in their position, and a member of the BMA (which I never was), I would not in conscience be able to take such action – yes I would be a scab! I will be interested to know how many juniors will share this position.
Ultimately the responsibility for this debacle rests with those at the top. Hunt has been endorsed by Mrs May so is safe for the present. But Dr Porter has not been able to deliver the goods and is leading the profession into the most damaging industrial action ever in the history of the NHS.
I know him to be a caring doctor and an honourable man and if, as I suspect, he doesn’t agree with the strike then I think he should now do the honourable thing and follow Dr Malawana by resigning.