In the last week it has been announced by the brave souls at the top of the BMA that they will be balloting their members - the majority of your "junior" doctors - for strike action. This comes from the darkness of the government's assertion that they intend to impose a new contract on junior doctors.
Tens of thousands of us have taken to the streets with the cry that this contract will be unsafe, unfair and will undermine the future of our NHS. We now have to decide, ultimately as individuals but hopefully with one voice, whether we are willing to strike to defend our position.....
This is not an easy decision to make.
When the ballot paper drops into the warm embrace of my welcome mat sometime shortly after the 5th of November I will be voting yes/yes to full strike action/action short of a strike to give the BMA the strongest position possible. I will do this without a second's hesitation.
This isn't to suggest, however, that I haven't thought this through! The fact my inspiration for this decision lies, in part, with a 1980s rock band, their ban on brown M&Ms and the trashing of a dressing room during a world tour is perhaps slightly unconventional but hear me out - at the very least it's a cool story.
The junior doctor contract saga is a complex affair and it is easy to feel overwhelmed. What actually is a "junior doctor"? What is banding? How much do we actually earn? Are there actually an extra 11,000 preventable deaths on a weekend? Or is that "rash and mis-leading"? Are doctors being mis-led by the BMA? What goes on in hospitals that is so cool and hardcore to need "danger money" payments?
I know the answers to some of these questions. Others I put away in a small box in my mind next to the plot of inception, the reason I am a Newcastle fan and why my housemate eats so much broccoli.
Complex problems are a nightmare. The NHS is the perfect example of such a problem. The 5th largest employer in the world housing a mind-boggling array of different medical specialties, let alone all of the other professions which make such a beast purr. Is it any wonder that re-shuffling this behemoth has resulted in so many political casualties? That politicians lick their lips so ambitiously when it lands on their plate?
To me the junior doctor contract debate is quicksand..... in the middle of a quagmire.....on a mountainside about to avalanche.....where do you even start?
Enter Van Halen.....
One night in Colorado in 1982 - during their world tour - Van Halen front man, David Lee Roth, makes a shocking discovery. There is a brown M&M in his dressing room. It is staring him square in the face from an otherwise quite welcome and delicious bowl of chocolatey goodness.
Van Halen's reaction? They trash the dressing room and cancel the show under article 126 of their rider found in the "munchies" section which stated "There will be no brown M&M's in the backstage area, upon pain of forfeiture of the show, with full compensation."
This seems at first glance to be nothing more than arrogant posturing. A power play from a rock band at the height of their powers which no doubt served to amuse them and feed their egos.
But what if it wasn't? What if it was actually an ingenious way of dealing with a complex problem?
Van Halen were a band intent on delivering a good show and as David Lee Roth put it in his autobiography - "Van Halen was the first band to take huge productions into tertiary, third-level markets. We'd pull up with nine eighteen-wheeler trucks, full of gear, where the standard was three trucks, max. And there were many, many technical errors.." and he goes on to describe the contract rider as being like "the Chinese Yellow Pages". Long story short - they were faced with a hugely complex problem that required the mobilisation of large numbers of people with close attention to detail to ensure the safety of the band, their staff and their adoring fans. The discovery of even a single brown M&M was a sign of more fundamental worry - what else is amiss?
Indeed on that night in Colorado in 1982 the venue had mis-judged the weight of the staging which subsequently sank through the flooring causing $80,000 of damage - I think you can sense where this is going....
The junior doctor contract debate is just as complex as the "Chinese Yellow Pages" which Van Halen faced all those years ago. I could spend hours trying to write letters to papers, MPs, and ultimately the public in an attempt to pick apart the contract blow by blow and gain your support in order to provide a firm platform for the BMA to negotiate from; a united workforce behind them and an understanding public in the wings.
I could do this but I just don't think I need to.
Let's take a brief look at some of the events so far....
- Jeremy Hunt's spin of the 11,000 deaths statistic is widely viewed as "rash and misleading". Some argue this is a breach of the ministerial code of conduct.
- One day we are assured no junior doctors will have their pay cut, the next there is talk of there being some who may lose out.
- On live breakfast TV he doesn't even appear to understand his own policies hiding behind the fact they are "quite complex" for 7.15am.
- "Danger Money" is not a "colloquial" term for anything in the NHS. Unless I'm just not one of the cool kids.
- 200,000 people signed a petition as a vote of no confidence in Jeremy Hunt as health secretary.
- Over 20,000 people marched in London against these contracts, and many thousands more in cities across the UK, crying that this is not about money - this is about the future of our healthcare system and these contracts being unsafe and unfair.
- Our secretary for health breached patient confidentiality by posting a tweet with patient identifiable information in clear view - with no repercussions.
- We, as junior doctors, already staff a 7 day NHS, that's 24/7, 365 days a year.
- The resistance to these contracts is coming from highly educated people who read the papers that the government misquote and analyse complex situations as a day to day (and night to night!) occurrence. Let alone their combined experience of the real-world NHS.
- The idea doctors are being mis-led by the BMA is weak to say the least. Doctors are like cats in a bag - you will only see this level of unity once each individual has read the evidence for themselves and come to the same conclusion!
This isn't a case of a loose brown M&M that has slipped through the net. This is a bowl of brown M&Ms that has fallen off the table, melted and ruined the cream carpet.
I will be voting yes/yes to strike action/action short of a strike in an attempt to deliver the BMA the power they need to fight this. I implore my colleagues to do the same and I ask that the public begin to engage with this and support us - whether you see it now or not we are doing this with your best interests at heart.
It is almost impossible to lay out all the complexities of this issue in a short and meaningful way so all I will say is this.........
How many more brown M&Ms do we have to find before we unite, as a nation, behind the simple realisation that something is seriously amiss here?