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Junior doctors' strike: Can 98 per cent of junior doctors be wrong, Jeremy Hunt?

Mr Hunt has the lost the trust, the confidence and the respect of the medical profession

Editorial
Thursday 19 November 2015 22:34 GMT
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Protesters from the 'National Health Action Party', critical of the Government's changes to the Health Service, lead a mock funeral procession for the NHS along Whitehall
Protesters from the 'National Health Action Party', critical of the Government's changes to the Health Service, lead a mock funeral procession for the NHS along Whitehall (Getty)

The Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt came under fire last week for endorsing a newspaper headline that described junior doctors planning a strike as “militants”.

98 per cent of the 28,000 doctors who voted – a 76 per cent turnout – backed strike action. Unless our hospital wards have been quietly incubating a Trotskyist rebellion, they cannot all be militants. They must be something else.

From the outset, the dispute between the Government and junior doctors has been about far more than the intricacies of the new contract – important as they are. This is an employment dispute driven forward by a deep current of discontent among doctors, not merely about pay or conditions but about the values, and the future, of the NHS itself.

Junior doctors working today chose to enter the medical profession during a pre-austerity era, in which the NHS was funded according to the needs of the population, and was thus improving the care it offered, driving down waiting times and winning the public’s admiration. They chose to apply their talents to a profession devoted to helping people, passing up other, more lucrative, careers in the process.

Since 2010, these doctors have watched an employer they believed in be degraded by five years of underfunding. Against mounting patient demand, funding for the NHS has remained almost flat. Doctors, nurses and the entire NHS staff have been spread incredibly thin. They are tired, they are demoralised and they want to draw a line in the sand and say: no more. Then came the Government’s threat to impose a contract of questionable merit on junior doctors. The outcome was inevitable.

The situation has not been helped by Mr Hunt, a former businessman who has the audacity repeatedly to lecture people who devote their lives to helping others on the importance of patient safety. As the strength of the vote makes clear, Mr Hunt has the lost the trust, the confidence and the respect of the medical profession. He must give in, drop his threat to impose a contract and hold meaningful talks now – or he must go.

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