Yesterday Jeremy Hunt announced that he was prepared to go to Acas. I absolutely did not see this coming; instead I was utterly convinced the gent was hell bent on forcing the strike. For me his attacks on the medical profession, his obviously misleading headlines and the initial rejection of Acas seemed to represent a man with an ulterior motive. Part of me also wonders if he has missed a trick as a doctors strike, no matter how perceivably safe, will attract damaging headlines. But then again in this media war there is always plenty of time for that battle to occur. For now he has given ground to the BMA.
His timing, naturally, appears to be deviously calculated. It has taken place on a day that the British public woke up to the sensationalist, and reality defying, announcement that newborn babies die more often on a weekend. Another false string to the bow of man who is obsessively chasing a seven-day elective ideal. It has also taken place on a day that the British public were informed £3.8bn would be officially front loaded into the NHS. This on the surface shows the government cares about the NHS, despite being an obvious false economy when scratched deeper. But by making an announcement on such a day it appears to be an attempt to soften the natural criticism he will face for taking a backward step, regardless of his reported reasoning.
Perhaps outside influences have had their say on proceedings. First the astounding response from junior doctors to the DDRB recommendations. When 98% of a highly educated and motivated group agree on anything it must be compelling. Next NHS Employers announced their undermining move of making contact with Acas to initiate conciliatory talks at the request of the BMA. Maybe NHS Employers are being prepared as the fall guy in this situation, but to do so prior to Hunt's formal instruction would have been a major blow.
Meanwhile, the BMA sense blood. Fresh from flourishing their member backed Ace; they make further demands following the first submission. Call off the imposition - we call off the strike. In my view, both the threat of imposition and the threat of industrial action are equally extreme. It is obvious that imposing a contract if talks are not going your way is not fair. It is also obvious that walking away from work if talks are not going your way is also not fair. So do they cancel each other out? Interestingly, the threat of a strike will always persist throughout any future negotiations given the overwhelming mandate by BMA members. So one could say by attempting to vanquish the threat from the opposition, the BMA are striking whilst in a position of perceived power and seeking to permanently gain the upper hand.
But striving to achieve this key development is an incredibly risky move. In the interim they stand to lose support as they have simultaneously entered into independent negotiations with NHS Employers. Given that they have pleaded for fair talks all along, it is somewhat contradictory and unreasonable to press ahead with the walkouts. My question is how far will they go to win this battle; is it worth losing in the short-term to gain significant strength in the war?
One thing is for certain. This is a highly intriguing game of chess we are watching unfold.