Time to Attack the Consultants: BBC Leads the Onslaught

28/07/2016 11:59

Arguably one of the achievements of the junior doctors' strikes has been the impact they have had on the government's contract negotiations with GPs and consultants. The new consultant contract negotiations started in October 2013 but were derailed when the junior doctors refused to roll over in the way that the Department of Health had anticipated causing the government to lose its appetite to fight the medical profession on two fronts. Hopefully, the will to resist demonstrated by the junior doctors will give the government pause for thought before it tries to steamroller a contract through on the consultants.

The junior doctor dispute has not been particularly edifying for either side. Nobody likes to see doctors on strike. Nobody likes to see a government abusing its position as a monopoly employer to worsen working conditions for employees.

Many unkind and unfair things have been said about junior doctors during this dispute, both by politicians and some branches of the media, in a relentless attempt to denigrate them. Not only have they had to suffer through the manipulation of statistics by Jeremy Hunt, but also media headlines such as the notorious 'moet medics' campaign run by the Sun which sought to reveal the obscene truth that doctors sometimes go on holiday. It seems that the consultants had better stand by for some of the same.

The BBC was never much of an advocate for the junior doctors. It's coverage of the strikes, when it chose to cover them at all, was generally limited to fawning interviews with Jeremy Hunt (when he chose to give them), or pointing out how many operations had been cancelled as a result of the strike. Never the less, it is still surprising that, with the announcement that the consultant contract negotiations have restarted, the BBC has gone full throttle into State TV mode with a smear campaign that must have Jeremy Hunt smiling into his morning glass of virgin's blood.

Running as one of their top stories on the morning of the 27th July, the BBC reported on the money some consultants earn in overtime. The attention grabbing headline 'NHS consultant paid £375,000 in Overtime', could have read 'Skilled Professional gets Paid for Doing Extra Work'. Of course, this is an extraordinary amount of extra pay and I can only assume it arose from extraordinary circumstances. But it is just that - extraordinary. The same article informs us that the average overtime earned by a consultant is around £13,000 each year and let's not lose sight of the fact that this is money for extra work, on top of a full time job, carried out at nights or weekends.

In general, consultants will get around £150 per hour for such work. This may still sound like a lot of money but I suspect it is far less than it would cost you to get any other equivalently qualified professional, a barrister for example, to take on extra, out of hours work, and it is definitely far less than the same consultants could earn working a shift for a private healthcare provider.

In presenting the story in this way the BBC has done exactly what the government would wish it to do; it has shifted the blame from the government, who have not properly funded the health system, to the consultants who are being paid at market rates to plug holes in an understaffed and underinvested NHS.

What the BBC would do well to remember before it goes any further down this path is that, whilst it may receive its funding from the government, the money comes from the tax payer. The purpose of the upcoming negotiations is to make the NHS better for our tax paying patients, not better for the well-being of our government's manifesto pledges.