Would you describe a striking junior doctor as selfish and reckless? I wouldn't. I wouldn't describe them like that at all. When you read the headlines and look at Jeremy Hunt talking about the impact of further junior doctor strikes, try to think of it from the other side. What would you be doing if you were a junior doctor?
I would be devastated. I would feel sick to my stomach at every piece of news coverage. I would wonder why years of training and dedicating myself to caring for patients had led me to be vilified in the national press. I would be angry at the politicians who had led me to this place. The place where leaving my patients for 5 days in a row, standing on a picket line, losing public support, and losing a quarter of my pay for the rest of the year seems like the only option I have.
This is not a decision that has been taken lightly. It has never been about pay; it has been about fairness. It has never been about wanting weekends off; it has been about patient safety. It has never been about 7/7 working; it has been about a failing, underfunded NHS that no-one in the government is willing to acknowledge.
The initial new junior doctor contract was so insanely unsafe and unworkable, the BMA got a massive 98% mandate for strike action from its members. It took 5 strikes before the government conceded that the contract was unworkable and talks restarted. The previous chair of the junior doctors committee, Johann Malawana, spent frantic weeks trying to renegotiate on key safety concerns. While he stated he felt it was the best deal he could get out of a reluctant government, it wasn't enough to reassure juniors. 58% of them voted to reject the new contract.
They did this knowing that the existing mandate for strike action remained in place, and knowing that this would mean further strikes. The BMA is a democratic trade union. Its members said no to the contract, so more strike action must take place.
This isn't the BMA misleading doctors. It is doctors saying enough is enough. They are willing to sacrifice their public standing, and risk the overwhelming guilt they will inevitably feel at doing something so anathema to any NHS worker, that surely those calling them selfish should stop and ask "why is an individual who has spent their whole life learning to care for the sick and vulnerable driven to a point where they walk away from that?"
Only by looking at the wider picture, at what the NHS is turning into and at what the public and its patients have to lose can we understand their motivation. I don't envy any junior doctor this decision. But I know I will support them because I can see what's happening too. Behind the flash figures and the promises, the NHS is crumbling and patient care is suffering. Like the junior doctors, I want a clear conscience when it happens. That I stood up and shouted about it, I did what I could. I sincerely hope it isn't already too late.
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