THE BLOG
23/10/2015 13:56 BST | Updated 23/10/2016 06:12 BST

Junior Doctors Are the Future of the NHS - They Deserve Far Better Than This

Our NHS is crumbling. It is dying a slow and painful death.

This isn't news - as NHS staff know better than anyone, things have been bad for a long time. But now, the people who make our NHS have reached a tipping point.

From 5 November, junior doctors across England will vote on whether they want to take industrial action against Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt's plans to impose a new contract on them that would put patient and doctor safety at risk.

Under Hunt, the NHS has constantly been expected to do more with less, and this latest proposal is no exception. The new contract makes it 'standard' for a junior doctor to work 90 hours a week between 7am and 10pm Monday - Saturday. So if a junior doctor works six days a week, they'll be doing 15 hour days as standard, week in, week out. And they'll be paid up to 30% less than they are now to do it.

What Jeremy Hunt doesn't seem to get is that junior doctors aren't some resource that he can stretch to fill the growing gaps in NHS funding. They are people. They are some of the most hardworking, highly skilled people in our society, and we need them.

Junior doctors have been right to raise concerns about the impact the planned changes will have on patient safety, which must be at the very core of every decision made about the NHS.

But personally, I oppose these changes most of all because of the impact they will have on junior doctors themselves. The people who care for us in our darkest hours must in turn be cared for. Working long hours on your feet, dealing with traumatic situations often through the night, with no time to stop for food and drink, is heroic. And it is something that takes time to recover from.

Our junior doctors need the time to get a good night's rest, to spend time with their friends and family, and to escape the immense pressures of their vital work.

In a heart-breaking piece for the Guardian, an anonymous doctor wrote today: "This year, once a week, I have woken up on the floor cold, jittery, anxious, hungry and traumatised by the things I have seen and the things I have had to do."

No one should have to live like that.

The Green Party believes in a work-life balance. We want to see Britain moving towards a standard 35-hour week, so that people have more time to rest, and to pursue the things they are interested in outside of work. Of course making this a reality for doctors would require huge investment and a major recruitment drive - both of which are crucial to the future of the NHS. But if we want our health service to survive, we should be investing in our doctors to make their lives easier, not harder.

If Jeremy Hunt cares about protecting and improving our NHS, he has a very odd way of showing it. Just yesterday, the editor of the British Medical Journal reprimanded the Health Secretary for misrepresenting a study to justify his attempts to force doctors to work longer hours. The study showed that, even if more doctors did work at weekends, the so-called excess deaths among people admitted on these days might not be preventable.

Doctors themselves have tried to raise their concerns about patient safety with Hunt, but his reaction to their attempts to negotiate on the changes has been to put his foot down.

Flying in the face of the evidence, Hunt is ploughing ahead with measures that will mean pay cuts, longer hours and poorer health for some of the hardest-working people in our society. The NHS is one of the best quality, best value health services in the world, and it is built on its staff. When Jeremy Hunt fails to invest in those staff, he fails the NHS.

As I met junior doctors on their protest in London on Saturday, their sense of frustration at being ignored, and of concern that the NHS was being put at greater risk, was inescapable. At this stage, I can see no option for them but industrial action.

Junior doctors are the future of our NHS. They deserve far better than this.