Why this government is bad for YOUR health...
So, what is the latest health threat that doctors are warning the public about in the UK at present? No, we haven't just identified a new strain of Ebola, tomatoes are still good for you, and disappointingly strawberry daiquiris are yet to contribute to your five-a-day.
The newest threat to your health, is ironically the health secretary Jeremy Hunt himself, and his latest attack on the NHS. Sound dramatic? Well, if you can trust even one doctor with your health; you can certainly believe the echoes of 20,000 doctors chanting 'Hunt must go' through the streets of Westminster last weekend. The new junior doctor contract is absolutely toxic for doctors and patients alike.
Let us strip down the spin and take this back to basics. The new junior doctor contract will effectively see our already over-stretched doctors, working harder and longer hours for less pay. So how is Jeremy Hunt getting away with this? The man has more spin that my local launderette on a Saturday morning; he is utilising tried and tested techniques of scaremongering, vilifying and empty rhetoric to justify his attack on the NHS.
To be perfectly honest, whilst listening to Jeremy Hunt on the radio, I thought to myself that he actually sounded pretty polished and convincing. Why shouldn't doctors work weekends; they get paid well to do their job and he states the new contract is cost neutral. He even quotes reports and statistics to illustrate his argument, which are put across in a rational and well scripted manner. Yes, I would almost certainly buy a used car from this man.
But I am afraid if you believed the last few sentences you have through no mistake of your own, fallen victim to the phenomenon aptly entitled 'The Hunt Effect.' The argument surrounding the 'seven-day NHS' is a modern day 'weapons of mass destruction' fallacy. 3,500 doctors recently supported a letter stating that Jeremy Hunt deliberately misled parliament by advocating that there are 11 000 'excess' deaths at the weekend, in order to validate his attack.
This unashamed manipulation has actually been relatively successful so far. There have been cases of sick patients delaying presentation until Monday morning, with serious consequences. I don't know about you, but I do not recall seeing any 'sorry we are closed' or 'popped out for lunch' signs on the doors to A&E before this. Keen to seize the data before it was even published, Jeremy Hunt misused the statistics, in order to draw a correlation between weekend mortality and doctors' hours. He has also neglected to mention that the patients who are admitted at the weekend tend to be more unwell. Unfortunately for him, doctors are trained in evidence based medicine, and could critically appraise the back of a cereal packet if they had to.
On the other hand, evidence based medicine has never been Homeopathy fan Jeremy Hunt's forte. Whilst we spend our days trying to convince our patients to reduce their donut intake, Jeremy Hunt has now been accused of delaying a publication which demonstrated that a sugar tax would help to reduce childhood obesity. This once more irresponsibly undermines doctors, and jeopardises public health. If Jeremy Hunt was a doctor, he would undoubtedly be struck off in a heartbeat.
Having attempting to justify the reason why he is attacking the junior doctors, the next step is to justify the means. Mr. Hunt even tried to convince doctors that the BMA mislead them regarding the imminent pay cut. But again, those pesky and persistent doctors, picked up the DDRB document, read it for themselves, and concluded they were in fact due for a 10-40% pay cut. Furthermore, doctors who aspire to find a cure to cancer or dementia for example, will now be financially penalised if they take time out of training to pursue such lifesaving research.
The net result of this, is doctors being forced into strike action, and if that fails, maybe even quitting the NHS. A current survey of over 4000 junior doctors revealed that over 70% would either move overseas, locum or pursue a new career should the new contract go through. Akin to being trapped in a toxic relationship, medics are packing their bags and heading for the door. We can no longer stick it out for the sake of the patients. Those doctors who are left in the NHS will be absolutely hammered with work, and their training and health will certainly suffer. Any inadvertent errors, slip ups or oversights they may make could cause harm to either you, or your loved ones.
The issue I find the most perplexing is the dichotomy that the government is perpetuating between 'doctors' and the 'public.' Aside from the fact that we are tax payers too, doctors also experience ill-health. They are not permitted to self-prescribe, nor do they receive any 'special treatment.' Our medics have friends, family and children too, so are trying to preserve the NHS for both themselves and the generations to come. The NHS is a British institution we should all be very proud of. Fundamentally, your bank balance or whether you can afford to do your weekly shop in the Harrods Food Hall or Lidl, does not determine how you are valued and treated as a human being.
Doctors and nurses have a privileged insight into the nature of the human condition. Sometimes I feel that I have picked up a novel, and started reading it from the end instead of the beginning. One of my most moving moments as a junior doctor, was the day I consoled an elderly lady as she said goodbye to her husband, dearest friend and companion of 70 years. I was struck by how sweet and gracious she was, even though his illness was brutally chewing him up and tearing her apart. The secret glimmer of hope that she was holding onto was briskly diminished, and replaced with suffering and fear. I struggled to sleep that night, instead listening to the sound of my partner's breath. I suddenly felt like I had started counting moments, like clinging to the minutes left before your snooze alarm goes off in the morning. Experiences like this can shape our doctors lives. Even the most junior doctor is endowed with more responsibility than many hold in a lifetime. We were there for this family at a testing time, like we would be for anyone else, and thankfully we didn't need to ask her for her credit card, bank details or insurance policy at any point during the process.
It is true, the NHS is now terminally unwell. There are two ways that this could go. In the first scenario, the government is victorious in bulldozing over the junior doctors and imposing the new contract. The junior doctors flee the NHS like it is a warzone and abandon ship or seek refuge abroad; as the government then strategically target other NHS workers, such as our hardworking and devoted nurses. Patients receive substandard care, and some even die as a result. The NHS disintegrates, is dismantled, and privatised without public backlash. Does this seem far- fetched? In 2005 Jeremy Hunt co-authored a book called 'Direct Democracy' detailing NHS dismantlement. Yes, the man protecting the NHS actually helped to write a dummies guide on how to disembowel it and then sell it off for profit.
The only alternative to this is to collectively appreciate that this is about so much more than a simple pay/hours dispute with doctors. This is about our health, society, integrity and truth. You cannot put a price on your health, or the people you love. Junior doctors have now effectively become the guardians of the NHS. In the words of Aneurin Bevan: "the NHS will last as long as there are folk left with the faith to fight for it". What life after the death of the NHS holds for us in the UK is uncertain, but what is for sure is that once the NHS has gone, it is never coming back. Snub the slippery spin doctors, trust in the right people, and stand up for and support the real doctors. You will need them now and in the years to come, and for once, they need you even more.