Junior Doctors: Don't Strike, Leave

29/09/2015 10:27 BST | Updated 24/09/2016 10:12 BST

To my fellow medics

Imagine that a patient comes to see you. She is distressed about an abusive relationship with her partner, which is clearly having a detrimental effect on her other relationships, and her mental and physical wellbeing. Desperate, she is planning on going to her parents' house for a few days in the hope it gets their partner's attention. Would you think even for a second that this might work? Or would you at least want to tell the patient that their plan was futile, and the only way to resolve this situation might be to walk away from her abusive partner for good?

This week, junior doctors have been threatening to strike over the government's proposed changes to their contracts; and justifiably so because it's an outrageous insult to us all. Say what you like about Jeremy Hunt (seriously, do), but forcing through a contract that will see some of the most highly trained members of our society taking a 30% pay cut, and marketing it as a 'pay rise' takes some serious balls.

The government, your employers, are using your integrity and your compassion against you

The 'abusive relationship' analogy may seem like hyperbole, but it really isn't. There is something uniquely chilling about the way the government are behaving. The leverage they have over us, the reason they're confident they can get away with what they're doing, is that they know how much we care about the principles of the NHS, and for our patients. Let the full weight of that sink in for a few seconds, and if it doesn't send a shiver down your spine, read it again: the government - your employers - are deliberately using your integrity and your compassion against you. Doesn't that sound like every abusive spouse and/or super-villain you've ever heard of?

Whilst totally justified, striking would be useless at best, and at worst it could be used against us. If something terrible happens, the media will pin it on us, not on the government, who won't lose a blink of sleep because they know we'll always come back for the patients. Furthermore, if their inevitable spin campaign works and public perception of doctors is be diminished as a result, it would allow them to be even more aggressive in the future.

Also, bear in mind that this new contract isn't a sudden U-turn in the government's attitude to doctors - it simply represents one more battle in their ongoing war against us, NHS staff and public sector workers in general. If the new contract was a shocking U-turn, maybe a strike would be enough to make them panic or realise they made a mistake, but they're clearly committed to the demonisation and bullying of medical professionals as a long-term strategy, and aren't going to let a few strike days get in the way. In fact, they've almost certainly planned for it. They might even want it to happen so they can use it to demolish public perception of doctors and demonise us further.

So striking won't work - it won't lead to the long lasting changes you need in order to do your job effectively and safely, to maintain a happy family life and to be fairly compensated for how much and when you work. So if you're unhappy in this relationship, maybe you should consider leaving.

Forcing through a contract that will see some of the most highly trained members of our society taking a 30% pay cut, and billing it as a 'pay rise' takes some serious balls

Clearly many of us are - 1,700 junior doctors have applied to leave the NHS and move abroad this week. But Australia isn't your only, or even the best option. If you're a medic, then the chances are that you're an intelligent, highly trained human being with a strong desire to help people - and that makes you incredibly valuable in a whole range of careers. A medical-technology startup company would snap you up in a second, you could work in social enterprise, education or you could work on a project of your own choosing, and you might actually get to see your family at Christmas.

I've met many, many doctors who have left clinical practice behind and now work on a huge range of projects that excite and fulfil them. We all know that doctors go into medical research and education, but they also go into technology, charity, engineering, consulting, management and finance roles. But from speaking to medical students and junior doctors in general, I know that for every one who has actually left, there are many, many more who are disillusioned with clinical practice, at least as a full-time, lifelong endeavour, but feel their talents are only applicable to medicine, and that they are morally obliged to only work in the NHS forever. Modern medical training teaches more than just anatomy and physiology: we learn how to critically interpret data, how to lead a team effectively, how to conduct research, how to effectively communicate in a range of situations and more. Do not underestimate the value of that.

You're an intelligent, highly trained human being with a strong desire to help people - and that makes you incredibly valuable in a whole range of careers

The government is making it very clear that it has no desire to support the NHS or the people who dedicate their lives to it. It knows how dedicated doctors are to their patients and instead of rewarding it, they are using it against us. If you want things to change, striking unfortunately won't help because they know you'll come back. If you're that unhappy with what your vocation has become, you should consider leaving and applying your considerable energy and talents somewhere they will actually be appreciated.

Unfortunately, it might be the only way to make them realise how much they need you, and then, if you still want to you could offer to return, on the condition of a contract that rewards your time and effort, the years of training and professional development you've gone through, respects your personal and family life, and ensures that you are adequately supported to provide safe and high quality care to patients.