It’s Monday morning, you drag yourself out of bed for the start of another week. You get a shower, eat some breakfast and head into work. As you arrive, the boss, who a few months earlier called you out on national television for not being committed enough to your job (See Jeremy Hunt on ‘Monday to Friday’ culture), calls you into his office, sits you down and slaps a new contract down in front of you. Except, this is not a negotiation, of 23 points on the new contract, which include reduction in overtime pay and cutting safeguards against excessive working hours, 22 are non-negotiable. How do you react….
This is the exact problem facing Junior Doctors in the UK, who feel backed into a corner by Jeremy Hunt and the Conservative Government. Whether or not you agree with the Junior Doctor strike the issue really is why has it come to this. Why have we got to the point where they feel striking is the only option that they feel they have?
Negotiations have stalled spectacularly, for the simple reason that negotiation doesn’t seem to be a work Jeremy Hunt understands the meaning of. Never have I seen such ignorance in the face of some of the hardest working people in the country. His ‘Monday to Friday’ culture comment was spitting in the face of the thousands of staff, not just the Junior Doctors, who work every weekend to keep hospitals running (often at the expense of time with their family). Junior Doctors are roughly entitled to 5-6 weeks of leave per year, compared with MPs who have around 200 days on average not spent in Parliament; split between Party Conferences, holidays and constituency work. And MPs have made calls in recent years for late night voting to be halted as 9pm or 10pm votes are ‘anti-social hours’, yet Jeremy Hunt wishes to extend normal working hours until 10pm Monday to Saturday for Junior Doctors. Jeremy Hunt was unavailable for questioning on the eve of the strikes and the spokesperson for the Department of Health was unable to answer any questions about his absence.
Some of the other non-negotiable points are utterly disgusting. There will be less safeguards to halt overworking of Junior Doctors, including the removal of fines for employers who force them to work excessive hours, and no pay protection if someone needs to train less than full-time or even chooses to have a baby. The proposals also see a reduction in breaks to 20 minutes every 6 hours and reduced pay almost across the board, despite BBC claims that barely anyone would be taking a pay cut. The media also seems to have this dispute down to nothing more than a dispute over a pay cut (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/nhs/11887308/How-much-are-junior-doctors-paid-and-why-are-they-threatening-to-strike.html) and seem to totally ignore most of the other reasons for striking put forward by the BMA, and they all seem to brush over the threat of imposition by August 2016 by the government. Should we not be supporting the people who are there to save our lives every day of the year? Who simply want fair contracts for doing so?
Regardless of your opinions on any of these measures or any others, the simple fact is that there has to be compromise. On both sides. Government and BMA (British Medical Association). Whilst Jeremy Hunt continues to impose pre-conditions on negotiations, slander the workers in the NHS and generally be utterly unwilling to compromise there will be no movement forwards with the situation. The NHS is one of the institutions that makes Britain a great place to live, I mean, free health care, for everyone, what is not to love about that. But unless you respect the people who are there to work hard to look after the people who come through the hospital doors every day, you are unlikely to get the high standard of care that Jeremy Hunt and the entire country wants from the NHS. That starts with having the decency to sit down with the BMA with a blank slate and see what sort of agreement both sides can reach. Then you can move forwards and see and end to the strikes that could start to cost lives, that is not the sort of fire I would want to be playing with.