I’m a junior doctor and here’s my theory about why Jeremy Hunt won’t meet me face-to-face

My letter was read aloud to the Secretary of State for Health on The Andrew Marr Show, but still he refuses to engage with my concerns in person

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The Independent Online

Much to the chagrin of my nine and five year olds, this morning’s school run was door-to-door Radio 4. It was strike day - the second time myself and other junior doctors have felt compelled to leave our patients for the picket line. After hearing former BBC political editor, Nick Robinson, explain that Jeremy Hunt had declined the BBC’s invitation for interview, my son asked a rather Robinson-esque question himself: “Mummy, why won't Jeremy Hunt do an interview with a junior doctor? Is it because they would overpower him?"

I live more in hope than expectation that my health secretary may answer this question. Only this week he has assured us again that to junior doctors, his door is always open. So open, and yet so elusive: since he threatened to impose his contract some six months ago, to the best of my knowledge Jeremy Hunt has not been seen in public with a single junior doctor.

This afternoon – cold and somber after another poignant day on the picket line, full of guilt and unease at not having been there for my patients – I was struck anew by what motivates Jeremy Hunt’s unavailability. Is fear of being ‘overpowered’ genuinely what underlies his distance from the juniors to whom he purports to have thrown open his doors? Is it really trepidation that provokes his increasingly martial language? When I started life as a junior doctor, never could I have imagined this toxic world in which the Secretary of State for Health would threaten me with a “nuclear option”. Since when are young doctors so threatening, so dangerous to a career politician that they require linguistic bullying into submission?

At the weekend, I came as close as I suspect I ever will to articulating my concerns to Jeremy Hunt.  Sitting on a BBC sofa, he listened to Andrew Marr reading my words to him. But his response could not have been more disappointing. On hearing that he has made me feel demoralised, insulted and cheap – that I have never felt so despairing or so close to quitting medicine – he blamed the BMA for stoking my distress by lying about the implications of his contract.

Jeremy Hunt won't answer Junior Doctor's questions

That, to me, encapsulates precisely how not to resolve this debacle. Instead of heeding the concerns of frontline doctors like me, Jeremy Hunt used them to score a cheap political point at the expense of the BMA. No wonder we are angry. Doctors are patient-centered, not political. We just want to get back to looking after people. We are sick and tired of being spun against because trust, more than anything, is our profession’s core value. We earn our patients’ trust through acting with honesty and integrity, and we expect the same from our health secretary.

Here, Jeremy Hunt, is how you could end this. First, cut the spinning. No more accusations about our ‘Monday to Friday’ culture. You know we already work 24/7, so why inflame us by implying otherwise? Second, acknowledge that what really underlies our anger is the dishonesty – as we see it  – of promising the electorate a ‘truly seven day NHS’ while not being willing to fund it. Without extra money for extra doctors (and nurses, porters, radiographers, therapists), the only way to deliver new weekend services is to stretch NHS staff even more thinly across seven days, not five. That cannot be good for patients.

Above all, Mr Hunt, please recognise that no-one wants better weekend services more than us, the junior doctors on the frontline. We want to work with you, not against you. Find some money to fund these new services, and you will end this dispute at a stroke. And you will find that all of a sudden you have created a small army of 54,000 junior doctors only too eager to deliver this genuine – not rhetorical – seven day NHS.

Let me clarify, Mr Hunt, to you, our doors are always open. We long to collaborate, not do battle with you. For all our patients’ sakes, please engage with us.