Should Junior Doctors Strike or Not?

02/05/2016 13:41

First, I am not a medical doctor, I have a PhD in cognitive neuropsychology; however, I am currently working with medical doctors regarding my research. Second, I am trying to provide an equivocal argument to the current situation with regards to junior doctors and patient wellbeing.

I am clear evidence that the NHS is not as efficient on a weekend compared to a weekday; my mother went into labour on a Saturday and I was eventually born on the Sunday. As a result of medical negligence I suffered severe brain damage and my mother nearly died. 36 years later the facts still remain that if you require treatment over the weekend then you have a greater mortality rate and more things go wrong. No one can argue with the facts and this means that the UK require a 24/7 NHS. The BMA and junior doctors all agree with this; however, how do we go about achieving this when the government are not willing to increase funding to the NHS?

Nobody can argue that a tired worker makes mistakes and when it comes to life or death decisions we cannot take this risk. Hence, I fully support the argument of the BMA and junior doctors who argue that if junior doctors are overworked then there is a greater chance of them making a mistake. This could be minor or a major mistake resulting in death and the junior doctors would be held accountable of this. On top of this, junior doctors are still learning so they require time to read up on journal articles and study, which I do not believe the Health Secretary has taken into account.

Conversely, anyone who is considering a degree in medicine should accept that they will need to work over the weekends and do night shifts. If a person is considering undertaking a medical degree and has not experienced the difference in care at the weekends compared to weekdays then they are naïve and should not have applied for the position. Unfortunately, people do become ill at the weekend or require long-term care in hospitals and this means that doctors must be available for the weekends when required; it is not a 9 to 5 job when you are training.

It is true that the Health Secretary should not change the goalposts regarding pay when current junior doctors sign up to work certain hours for a certain wage. In this respect, perhaps Mr Hunt should suggest the changes of pay and working hours to people who have yet to begin medical training. However, on the other hand, I don't believe that junior doctors should base their strike action on wages because after they have qualified and completed 3-5 years of work in the NHS they can either consultants, GPs or work in the private sector. I acknowledge that it costs a significant amount in tuition fees to become an MD; however, at the age of 32-36 doctors can become consultants with a minimum salary of £60k. Surgeons can earn significantly more and consultants can earn up to £100k in the NHS. However, there are other options such as becoming a GP or going into the private sector where wages are significantly higher.

We come to the Hippocratic Oath and the first paragraph taken from the BMA states: "The practice of medicine is a privilege which carries important responsibilities. All doctors should observe the core values of the profession which centre on the duty to help sick people and to avoid harm. I promise that my medical knowledge will be used to benefit people's health. They are my first concern. I will listen to them and provide the best care I can. I will be honest, respectful and compassionate towards patients. In emergencies, I will do my best to help anyone in medical need." See for the whole Hippocratic Oath.

Now, junior doctors are arguably going against this oath when they are taking any form of industrial action, even when they are unwilling to assist in schedule operations. For example, if someone had been booking in for a simple knee operation, but this had been postponed for two weeks due to the strike, there is no guarantee that within the two week window that the person may not have fallen and have more severe injuries. The walkout in A&E is more severe because one can argue that waiting times may increase and people may avoid going to A&E. If a child has meningitis for example, then minutes can mean the difference between severe disability or even death. Both these examples go against the Hippocratic Oath which junior doctors swore to uphold. Hence, the junior doctors are putting lives at risk by taking strike action and especially when they are not working in A&E. One final example, what if there was a terrorist attack during the current strike action? I am sure that the junior doctors would evidently return to work, but the logistics would mean that it would take at least an hour to organise who was doing what. We all know that there is the "golden hour" where lives are saved. In this circumstance, potentially millions of lives could be put at risk due to the industrial action.

The responsibility lies with the government; they have chosen to spend £9m on a leaflet about Brexit without spending this on having more junior doctors or investing in a better contract for junior doctors. Only the Health Secretary can explain why he is unwilling to trial his "superior" plan in certain areas of the UK. I suspect this is because he knows the welfare of junior doctors will decrease and the mortality rates of patients will increase! Perhaps any Health Secretary should also take the Hippocratic Oath? Any comments are welcome.