THE BLOG

Just Another Junior Doctor

08/01/2016 17:20 GMT | Updated 08/01/2017 10:12 GMT

As we dismantle the festive scenes around us, dust off the glitter and remove the last of the pine needles stubbornly embedded in our carpets; we are presented with surprisingly bare surroundings and an unshakable sense of unease, how different things looked only a week ago.

The latter certainly rings true for those junior doctors amongst us. The arrival of January 4th and the much anticipated outcome of our contact negotiations has caused considerable splitting of opinion; not only in the media, but also the public and yes, even between junior doctors.

A month ago, I was 100% behind strike action, and just short of this figure, so were the rest of the UK's junior doctors; or at least the 37,000 of us who were balloted. I proudly marched with my colleagues through Whitechapel, solidarity was at an all-time high and our profession stood united. The public largely seemed to support us too; even some of the papers took an uncharacteristically sympathetic view towards our cause. It was clear that NHS Employers and the Department of Health were being unreasonable and they finally agreed to re-enter into negotiations; albeit too late.

However, despite strike action being averted, there remained an overwhelming feeling of disappointment and a palpable frustration festered. Then Christmas happened. Smiles were put back on our faces and a spring placed back in our step, even Bieber managed to lighten our mood. But now that December is over, the stark reality of January has arrived, and with it, the emergence of this 'dispute' has reared its ugly head once again.

As the turbine of social media whirs back into life, opinions are more divided than ever. Doubt over our momentum and questions regarding our resilience have served only to strengthen the more militant doctors amongst us. Whilst the rest of us (or maybe just me), are left feeling slightly perplexed about the evolving situation, and admittedly, a little saddened by it all.

Having read the recent negotiation summary posted on the BMA website, it is clear that elements of the contract remain completely unfair and unsafe; though the former seems to be the bigger issue now. Certainly points surrounding working hours, which directly affect patient safety, appear to have reached some common ground, though proper mechanisms of implementation are yet to be defined. It would also seem that both sides agree on issues around pay progression, minimising gender disparity and pay for all work done whilst importantly, taking into account responsibility and intensity of work. Progress, one might dare say.

However, reaching a mutual agreement on pay for unsocial hours seems almost a distant fantasy. Unfortunately my mathematical prowess is limited and I cannot make sense of the accuracy of the Government's claims that 99% of us will be better off or at least not worse off from changes to pay. I suspect there is some equivocation with these 'calculations'.

It is true that many other professions, ranging from the military and emergency services to those in retail and hospitality, also work unsocial hours yet do not benefit financially. I also appreciate that certain specialties have more unsocial hours than others and recruitment to those will ultimately suffer if they are not paid accordingly, which could have a devastating effect on the sustainability of our NHS.

It's a tricky one and an area that goes beyond my capabilities to decipher. I certainly do not envy the BMA nor the Government with the difficulties these negotiations present, and actually, I take my hat off to both parties for the hard work that has gone in to these discussions thus far.

Ultimately, one of my biggest concerns is that this 'dispute' has the potential to descend into a power struggle. Government bashing and attacking individual opinions is not going to win this 'war'. Education and negotiation is key, and failing that, yes, strike action is unfortunately a last resort.

But we must not lose sight of why and what we are fighting for. Fundamentally, the survival of our NHS is paramount; and that goes beyond this current dispute. Establishing safe and fair junior doctor contracts are just a stepping stone towards preserving the future of our NHS. But in order for this extraordinarily incredible service to remain in one piece, we need to work with the Government, not against them. Our NHS is one of our most valuable assets and we must come together to protect it. Call me idealistic, but I only hope we don't lose sight of that.