By their very nature, doctors are selected for their scientific background and learn how to apply to this to patient care. But along the way, they need to move with the times. This can sometimes mean making tough decisions about their own care and treatment, rather than just the care and treatment of our patients. Competent and motivated doctors need a working environment where both their enthusiasm and their careers can flourish.
In Westminster Hall on March 21st 2016, MPs will debate 'E-petition 121262', which calls on Jeremy Hunt (our Health Secretary) to resume meaningful negotiations on the junior doctor contract with the British Medical Association. The petition attracted 118,455 signatures, yet the government argue that rather than ignoring concerns from the 53,000 strong junior doctor workforce in England, they are introducing a fairer, safer contract that will improve patient care across the whole week.
Junior doctors beg to differ. The debate represents make or break time for their careers. The government is about to impose a contract on them that will have the most far-reaching impact on them since the NHS was founded. If general dissatisfaction with the government among junior doctors in the NHS were a disease, it would surely be classified as an epidemic. Here's why junior doctors are now being accused of being 'militant'
1. When doctors graduate from medical school, they feel a passion for providing the very best care for their patients. This is at the expense of long hours and the beginning of a career journey that, for this generation of junior doctors, doesn't end until the age of 68. Yet, the government has likened their passion for patient care in a job that does not over-stretch them to being akin to 'militants' who have been radicalised by the BMA. Even the money that they rightfully earn when covering uncertain hours has been called 'Danger Money' by Mr Hunt. All in all, the government and some of the Press would have us believe that they are carrying out a military exercise instead of simply expressing their sound and fury.
2. Junior doctors are naturally concerned about the future of their profession. With the medical profession being eroded by private finance initiatives and cheap alternatives to treatment provision by 'any qualified provider', doctors are literally voting with their feet in taking industrial action against an NHS that is being dismantled. The extent of how far they will go to vote with their feet is shown by a lack of hesitation in leaving the country for more favourable working conditions overseas. As many as a third of doctors working in Emergency Medicine have already left our shores. Somehow, those who do not choose to take strike action have been regarded as 'moderates'.
3. As a profession, it is the responsibility of doctors to stay up to date. This includes close scrutiny of evidence being used to justify the imposition of a new contract. As a result, the government has come a cropper in the most embarrassing way possible. Junior doctors have seen through the government's interpretation of widely quoted mortality statistics. In fact, the author of the most widely quoted study stated "It will be inaccurate and counterproductive to quote that our analysis is due to be published in the BMJ shortly, as this is not the case and may seem to interfere with the peer review process" Clearly, the figures had been spun into the emperor's new clothes even before the article went to Press.
4. When no-one is listening to a large group of well-informed and misled doctors who are passionate about their jobs and job satisfaction, they are bound to want answers. Not those answers that are produced by political script-writers but those that generated by mature debate.
For the moment, the voice of junior doctors is being smothered by the toxic fumes of political propaganda. In the meantime, junior doctors will not give the fight. It is still their fight, but they need us to be behind them. We are, after all, One Profession.