Before I begin this article I have to issue a disclaimer. My grandmother was an NHS doctor, my mother is currently an NHS doctor as well as a medical faculty member at Imperial College, and many of my friends are the infamous "Junior Doctors" who are the victims of this policy debacle. So I very much have a horse in this race, but I am poised to comment on this as a bystander who can see the palpable fear within the medical community about the dawn of a troublesome new age.
I am in a state of dismay about Jeremy Hunt's proposals and feel compelled to write this article. Having spent some time in Westminster's derided political circles, I have heard all sorts of theories about Hunt's plan. The unkind suggest that he is deliberately trying to break the morale of the NHS to the point where a wave of privatisation is the only choice. The more sympathetic suggest that Osborne's drive to "balance the books" leaves the NHS uniquely placed for unprecedented cuts and so Hunt is left with little choice. However, I have not heard many claims that what has been proposed will ameliorate the NHS, in fact some concede that it is an "inevitable cost of the financial situation."
My first qualm with the whole situation is the way in which the government has sought to deal with doctors. It is crucial that we maintain some regard for what doctors are. It would be incorrect to suggest they were "just like" any other set of employees. I firmly believe that NHS doctors cling on to the idealism that most of us abandon as we enter adulthood. Their ability, intelligence and stamina indicate that doctors have forsaken far more lucrative careers in order to spend their nights looking after our nation's unwell and spend holidays with the imminent possibility that they will have to be recalled to their hospitals.
Why? The sense I have got from spending a large amount of time with doctors is that they do not even view this sacrifice as a sacrifice. Many view their profession as a calling or a duty. In today's cynical age it is easy to overlook the importance of this. But an individual who saddles herself with 6 years of student debt, a starting salary of possibly £22,600 (well below her peers who will have achieved similar A level grades) and a lifetime of unfixed working hours – deserves more than just an authoritarian command from a Health Secretary that has shirked his responsibility to reach compromise when comprise was crucial.
Secondly, I find that there are several inconsistencies in Hunt's proposals. In his infamous Commons speech where he outlined that there was no further room for discussion, he explained that weekend deaths in emergency wards were higher than the weekday average. This claim has been disputed, but regardless, what he proposes could lead to an all-together worse status quo. His new contract reduces pay for out of hours work (an eventuality that many of us would not tolerate lightly), this will lead to an immediate decrease in doctors pursuing roles in emergency care and at a time where A&E is already facing waiting time pressure – it seems foolhardy.
Moreover, this notion of "fairness" that Hunt throws around frivolously is misplaced. The policy clearly discriminates against women and the BMA is right to take forth a lawsuit. The fact that Jeremy Hunt thinks that men and women will be affected equally by the fact that pay is frozen when one takes a career gap is laughable.
Finally, although I feel my frustration could propel this article into a thesis, I would like to end by mentioning the grand scheme of things. This is very much a turning point. This government is the most fiscally conservative in a generation and has set up a path that has Aneurin Bevan turning in his grave. Much more learned people than I have documented the path to privatisation we are currently on and we must be aware that the NHS we so dearly love is not the NHS of tomorrow.