This week, the junior doctors are going on strike. Again.
Most of the people reading this won't know why. All these professionals, who claim to be committed to caring for some of the most vulnerable in our society, why would they refuse to turn up to work?
The government has done its best to confuse the issue. Some of the more biased newspapers have followed suit. There are headlines claiming that junior doctors are greedy, that they've been offered a 11% pay rise, but they want more. The general theme of the spin has been simple: the junior doctors are looking out for themselves.
I'd like to let you in on a little secret. The junior doctors aren't striking for themselves. There's actually lots of things they aren't striking about:
Sure, I think doctors would be right to be upset about the new contract, which - despite government claims of a 'pay rise' offer - actually threatens huge cuts in pay. Mr Hunt has offered to increase the 'base rate' of pay by 11%, but refuses to say what will happen to the 'banding' that the vast majority of trainees also receive.
As a personal example, my pay is made from the base rate plus a 45% banding rate. I may lose my entire banding rate. Even with an 11% increase in base pay, that's a drop of nearly 25% in my annual salary. How would you feel if your employer announced a non-negotiable drop in your salary? Great video asking members of the public the same question here...
It's not about working long hours.
Doctors are used to working long hours, we know its par for the course. We actually work more hours in our contracts than most professions, 48 hours rather than the more common 37.5 or 40. We understand that - despite the government's blindness to the fact - the NHS runs a 24-hour service, and we are all part of providing that.
What scares us is the removal of current safeguards: at the moment, if a hospital breaks the rules and forces juniors to work extra hours, there is a significant financial penalty. This happens fairly often. In the new contract, the hospital may just be asked to enforce the limits, with no penalty. How would you feel if your employer decided to start ignoring the time limits on your contract?
It's not about weekends.
Junior doctor already work weekends. I'm a GP trainee, but I'm still working two of the next three weekends. Do I get days off either side? Nope. I only have one day off in the next 18. It's going to be hard work!
The government keeps talking about the risk of being in hospital over a weekend. Whilst this has been extrapolated from statistics that prove nothing of the sort, it does mean there is a push to further jeopardise our junior doctors' already limited opportunity for normal social lives. How would you feel if you were told Saturday is now the same as Monday morning? How would you balance family, friends, childcare...
Money, long hours, weekends. These may seem like totally reasonable causes for a strike. But there are even more important issues at stake...
It's about safety.
Junior doctors are on the front lines. We know how understaffed A&E is; we see how thin on the ground clinical cover is during hospital on calls, and how GP surgeries are fighting against a sinking ship of paperwork, appointments and shrinking finances.
We know that patients are suffering, and, currently, junior doctors are working out of goodwill to hold up the creaking system. Junior doctors logged more than 10,000 hours of unpaid overtime during one five day period in October. Push the junior doctors harder? Goodwill gives way to exhaustion. Do you want a tired, unhappy doctor?
It's about making sure we have enough doctors.
The government scares us. They don't value junior doctors, and they don't see that junior doctors become senior doctors.
I posted previously about how general practice and psychiatry training schemes are running half empty. Five years ago, over 71% of newly qualified doctors joined training schemes. Last year? 52%. With record numbers of doctors leaving to work overseas, Jeremy Hunt is causing an exodus of professionals we desperately need.
The NHS is at risk of being terminally ill. It needs treatment, or its going to die. Trust us - doctors know about this sort of thing.
I'll be brutally honest here. If the NHS fails, I'll be okay.
Sounds cocky, but its probably true. In fact, I'll probably earn more than I do currently. I'll be able to afford health insurance premiums for my family, for myself. I'll be fine.
If the NHS fails, Jeremy Hunt will definitely be okay. More than okay. He will join a private healthcare company board, and earn vast bonuses in a climate of charging people for care they currently receive for free.
If the NHS fails, there's a big group of people that will not be okay. It's not doctors. It's not irritating politicians. It's the poor.
There will be hard working people at the bottom, choosing between healthcare... and food.
People getting cancer, then losing their homes.
Patients deciding its better to live in depression than in debt.
Children dying because they don't have parents with enough money to afford treatment.
And that's not a United Kingdom I'm willing to accept.
Junior doctors aren't striking for themselves. They are striking for all of us. Support them. #notsafenotfair