Tom Goodfellow

Junior’s contract: “Don’t allow bitterness and anger to take over your professional life”

The announcement that the BMA Junior Doctors Committee (JDC) had decided to abandon the threat of further strike action over the issue of the new contract was largely trumped by other news last week (sorry)!

However the decision is to be welcomed, and instead of striking they plan to carefully monitor the implementation of the contract to ensure that Trusts fulfill their responsibility to deliver high quality care and training.

I think they correctly read the runes that many doctors were deeply uncomfortable with the proposed series of five day strikes and for this the juniors are to be commended.

The fact that I predicted this outcome in a previous blog gives me no sense of schadenfreude: everyone is a loser in this conflict. The juniors have lost their claim that the contract is unfair and unsafe.

The BMA has lost a huge amount of credibility, and many juniors are seriously pissed off with them with talk of multiple resignations. The Government’s handling has resulted in plummeting morale in a crucial body of staff, and thousands of patients have had operations delayed and appointments cancelled. This dispute has not been well handled by either side.

That Jeremy Hunt survived Theresa May’s cabinet re-shuffle should have alerted the BMA that the Government were confident of victory, but sadly they ignored the “writing on the wall”, although the word is that it was the JDC who were most militant against the advice of their more senior colleagues.

So what next?

Medicine should be a hugely enjoyable and rewarding career. There are few things to beat the satisfaction of participating in the diagnosis and treatment of very ill people and to share in their genuine gratitude on recovery. OK, I know that may be too rosy a picture, but it really can be like that from time to time, and in these deeply cynical days we must not forget this.

With such inadequate leadership from the top, responsibility for restoring morale among the juniors must largely rest with the medical directors, the CEOs and trust chairpersons. They now need to set the tone in each hospital, and listen to and respond to the concerns of doctors. If they show genuine interest in their staff and work with them to address the problems then hopefully some sense of common purpose and achievement may be generated. This should help to restore morale among the juniors.

The consultants also have a role in this and should be careful to encourage the juniors in their careers, to scrutinise the effects of the new contract and to highlight any significant problems to management. Please don’t leave this to the juniors themselves – they will need your unflinching support.

To the juniors I would say that this has been a bruising battle which the BMA has lost. Accept this and move on.

I should think that most already have, but if you are still very angry, disillusioned and despondent then do a bit of self-help cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) – that is make a decision to actively change the way you think about the situation and your future career. Don’t allow bitterness and anger to take over your professional life.

I was very impressed by a soldier who was interviewed by the BBC on Remembrance Sunday; a Scots lad who had been badly injured. His father came to see him in Hospital in Solihull and said simply, “You’ve no legs! Move on.” And he did.

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