What are UK Junior Doctors protesting about? 20,000 gathered in Central London on Saturday. Had they all, as Jeremy Hunt suggests, been misled by the BMA and the chair of the Junior Doctor Committee, Dr Johann Malawana? Mr Hunt assures us that, overall, no pay cut is intended: the pay envelope for junior doctors is fixed. Therein lies the problem.
Photograph reproduced by kind permission of Dr Susie Bayley
It is actually really simple. The government has pledged to provide routine healthcare 8am to 8pm, 7 days per week but has to make massive cuts to the NHS (£30bn PER YEAR by 2020) at the same time.
The contract they are seeking to impose upon junior doctors therefore requires them to work longer hours to deliver routine care for the same money. Working more hours for less money is a pay cut in my book, however Mr Hunt chooses to dress it up.
At the last election, with respect to routine healthcare, the electorate was asked to choose between availability 7 days a week and faster access. Neither party provided a convincing explanation of how they would fund the emerging massive funding gap, let alone provide resources for these seductive promises.
Nor did either party reassure worried patients that emergency healthcare is and always has been delivered promptly, 24 hours a day according to clinical need by all NHS doctors - whether junior doctors, consultants or GPs. Quite the contrary: Mr Hunt continues to assert - without any validity (as demonstrated by Margaret McCartney and Alistair Hall) - that emergency care is less safe at the weekend. Tragically, these sickest of patients are now risking their lives by starting to delay seeking treatment until after the weekend, a phenomenon now known as "The Hunt Effect."
Having been conned into making a false choice, it is now time for the electorate to tell the government loud and clear what it wants: higher taxes or cuts. There is no middle way.
If NHS cuts are chosen, doctors can help to highlight those areas of healthcare which might be considered luxury items. 48 hour or 7 day access for routine healthcare would be top of the list! Treatments unlikely to lengthen life (cosmetic treatment, for example) are likely also to be on the list.
Exploiting doctors and other healthcare professionals - some of our most dedicated and highly qualified workers - is not fair to them and will not be safe for patients. Why we begrudge generous pay to these staff mystifies me. Even the pilloried bankers are still paid well, so as to retain the best. Is the UK content with second best doctors? In any case, they will simply vote with their feet and work abroad, accelerating the failure of the NHS.
So, Mr Hunt and Ms Alexander, it is time for some honesty, please. Ask voters to choose:
In the meantime, I and all doctors will stand with Johann as he speaks truth to power.