To mark 100 days of the first Conservative government in nearly 20 years, HuffPost UK is running 100 Days of Dave, a special series of blog posts from grassroots campaigners to government ministers, single parents to first-year students, reflecting on what's worked and what hasn't, whilst looking for solutions to the problems we still face
I was politically ambivalent about the general election. Like a lot of NHS staff, I was torn between knowing that things were bad in the health service, especially in general practice, but equally knowing that a change of government would inevitably mean some sort of re-branding, reorganisation and changes of priorities. I knew an NHS on its knees already wouldn't cope with that. When the result came in, it was going to be more of the same. No massive changes, just slogging on trying to get the government to listen.
I was totally wrong. Hoping that the status quo would be maintained turned out to be hugely optimistic. There have been three big stories for the NHS in the last 100 days.
Firstly, the "new deal" for general practice. My expectations were low; they should have been lower. The language was strong, the spin was high. In essence the government wanted unfunded seven day routine general practice from primary care; in return they offered... nothing of substance. Longer training, a marketing campaign and some data. That was it. Instead of simply being disappointing, it suddenly became a real threat. If the government forced through routine seven day surgeries, on top of the existing GP out of hours cover and struggling five day service, where would the doctors come from?
The training schemes are empty and have been for the last three years. Jobs are unfilled. No one wants to take on the responsibility to becoming a partner and being tied to the governments whim with insufficient GPs to staff the hours. It became a real, direct threat. Within days, notices were being handed in. Practices close to me terminated their contracts with NHS England; more did so across the country. GP partners moved their retirements forward, or swapped to salaried and locum roles so they wouldn't face being tied to unsafe working. I lost count of the number of times I heard colleagues saying "but we don't have enough doctors to open five days a week - I don't understand how we can do any more?" Morale plummeted.
Out of this came the second big story. GPs had enough. They had enough of muttering in the background; of the government thinking they could be walked all over. Instead of complaining to each other, they did something. They got together. They formed a new group. They called it GP Survival. I am part of this group, and the 3,500 colleagues who have joined me all have their personal reasons. Some are from rural practices, some from cities. Some are in larger partnerships, some are single handed. Some are partners, salaried doctors and locums. But they all feel that GPs are not being listened to, and that General Practice is inherently at risk. When I ask colleagues what they think NHS primary care will be like in five or 10 years time, many of them shrug: "It probably won't exist". So we are up for a fight.
But then, the third thing happened. As GPs prepared to mobilise, Jeremy Hunt did something no other health secretary has ever done. He united all NHS staff. Not content with his wet fish deal to GPs, he went a step further. He attacked hospital doctors. He accused them of lacking a sense of vocation and professionalism. He accused them of clocking off at weekends, and of being responsible for the deaths of 6,000 patients a year because of this. "You are 16% more likely to die if you're admitted to hospital at the weekend! Consultants opt out of weekend working!" he shrilled. But he was lying. He was lying through his teeth. Incensed doctors took to social media, posting pictures of themselves at work, at the weekend. They listed their hours; the double shifts. They posted pictures of the children they hadn't seen. They showed consultants mopping the floor in theatres to help the nurses. Photos of whole teams of doctors working together. Many of them weren't meant to be in, but had come to help short-handed colleagues or check on patients. The #IminworkJeremy trended all weekend across the UK.
Then the petitions started. Calling on Mr Hunt to resign. Calling for a vote of no confidence in Mr Hunt. The signatures poured in. Over 100,000 people signed the first. To date over 200,000 have signed the second. This is on the Government's new parliamentary petitions page. It had to have an official response, and has to go forward to the petitions committee to discuss. Staff across the NHS - doctors, nurses, healthcare assistants, porters, cleaners, a whole list, stood together. GPs stood with them, all in the same boat, all tarred by the same brush.
The government response was laughable - more deliberately misleading statistics. Intelligent rebuttals from doctors quickly appeared. Groups of doctors working together to counter the spin. The consultants opting out of weekend care needed enforced contract change? There aren't any. A rapid Freedom of Information request showed that the one Consultant who had opted out, had done so in order to work MORE hours and not be limited by the restrictions placed on doctors hours by a Europe wide law (EWTD). It would be laughable if the stakes weren't so high. All the government had to do was listen. They had to listen and work with us. But instead they chose spin, easy headlines, and contempt. There has been surprisingly little press coverage of this massive petition and its overwhelming support on social media, making doctors wonder if there is pressure coming from somewhere.
So the first 100 days has lined the entire NHS up against the government. GP Survival has a sister - NHS Survival. Made up of everyone who cares about the NHS. We are all ready for a fight. This time, we are all together. This time, we won't be backing down. Let the next 100 days begin Dave. Bring it on.