Today the British Medical Association announced that 98% of over 35,000 junior doctors vote yes to strike action. Strikes are due to take place on the 1st, 8th and 15th December. The message is clear; we stand together. The events of the past two months have thankfully awakened many junior doctors to a responsibility to engage with healthcare policy. Today we have added strength and unity to the tools of our trade.
Fighting our cause in the media was never going to be easy. The Department of Health has persistently tried to conflate the junior contract issue with their wider plan for a 'truly 7 days NHS'. They claim they're coming through on their democratically elected manifesto promise. Junior doctors say that the Department of Health have in fact no idea what they mean when they say that. Their plan to radically alter one profession's employment terms has no firm evidence base, is seated on faulty logic and don't in any way address the support services needed to keep patient flow steady across 7 days.
Junior doctors say that the purpose of this push is to allow the current government to look like they have delivered an election promise they made, but had no intention of ever properly defining, planning or funding. The Department of Health say they are looking for the best value for taxpayer's money. Junior doctors say the proposals are a false economy.
So yes, the battle lines are drawn and perhaps it was starting to look like we would soon reach the point where we could no longer see each other above our respective trenches.
This fight is of course about protecting what we know our NHS needs to thrive in the medium and long term. Patient care however is our business and we will always continue to respect that there are millions of vulnerable, sick patients and their families who do not have the luxury of prioritising anything but their next few hours. As doctors we know that effective leadership cannot rely on ultimatums. The British Medical Association (BMA) have therefore coupled their cry of strength with a call for progress; the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) have been approached for mediation. Am I surprised? Of course not. Contrary to what some media outlets would have you believe, junior doctors are in the business of high moral standards, accountability and integrity. I would expect nothing less of my profession. We always wanted to talk.
Many people may ask; why not just talk with the Department of Health? Why the need for ACAS? The unfortunate truth is that we simply do not currently trust Mr Hunt. We have repeatedly heard him repeat mistruths to the public. As Einstein said '"whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters". Am I happy to be proved entirly wrong? Of course I am, this battle is about more than my pride and there is in fact nothing that I would like more going forward that to be able to trust the Secretary of State for Health. I sincerely hope I am wrong.
Mr Hunt has however suggested he has no current plans to accept the BMA's invitation of mediation through ACAS. Can you think of a worthy justification for that? I certainly can't. The BMA want to talk. If the Department of Health are as they say, open to real negotiation, we can move forward. Mr Hunt has been very clear that he thinks striking will risk patient safety. If this is indeed his opinion then surely he is bound to do everything in his power to exhaust the other options? That's not to mention that for imposition of a contract to be legal, I would presume an employer needs to have been seen to exhaust all consultation options. Even if these tens of thousands of junior doctors are wrong and the Department of Health's proposals would improve care in the NHS, mediation would give them the a wonderful opportunity to help us understand that. The suggestion of mediation by the BMA is the single most positive thing to happen since the junior contract row erupted.
To the people that rely on the NHS we want to say thank you for sticking with us through our battle this far. We want to say this vote means that we are united in standing up for our profession but we are also united in standing up for you. We will find a way through this, because we sincerely feel your future care depends on it.
To Mr Hunt we want to say come to mediation and prove us wrong. We are all ears.