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Are junior doctors right to strike over seven-day working?


I am writing this as the junior doctors’ strike is in full swing. I’ve been trying to get a firm grip on what I think about it all for months now – but have somehow struggled.

Is the traditional bogie man, Jeremy Hunt, in the wrong or is it the powerful doctors’ union – both are partly to blame for the impasse I suspect, as neither are known for giving ground. Of course that leaves the trainee medics themselves caught in the middle to some degree.

Also, what are they actually disputing over? Is it the working hours, the money, the contract imposition or a higher calling on the future of the NHS itself? At times, it has seem almost as bad as the European Union referendum campaign for both sides contradicting each other.

“Would it simply mean less well paid staff stretched across more unsocial hours in order to achieve a manifesto pledge”

It’s not that hard for me to imagine how the eyes of the policy wonk that came up with the idea lit up at the prospect of an easy sell to the public.

As both the son of an older patient and the father of a very young patient, I admit however naively to being drawn to the idea of a “seven-day NHS”.

There, I’ve said it and sorry if I’ve offended anybody. But what would it mean in reality?

Would there be better continuity of care through improved access to our GP surgery and better outcomes for hospital patients at weekends and other out-of-hours times? Would there also be more junior doctors around to support nursing staff during out-of-hours?

“What does concern me is the potential damage being done to the relationships between those groups caught on either side”

Or would it simply mean less well paid staff stretched across more unsocial hours in order to achieve a manifesto pledge, but with little real gain in outcome or access.

For some reason, I am minded of the removal of restrictions on the sale of alcohol in 2005 when the promise of being able to go to the pub any time of day or night seemed very exciting but the reality was that very few people needed this facility and thus very few pubs ultimately offered it.

Looking at it another way, do we have enough practice nurses to even provide more care from GP surgeries – I doubt it. And do hospital nursing staff really want more junior doctors around as opposed to simply having a safe establishment of nurses – probably not.

New contracts for consultants and GPs have or are apparently sailing through, so it seems it’s very much the junior wing of the profession that is making a stand.

“It’s not that hard for me to imagine how the eyes of the policy wonk that came up with the idea lit up”

It would perhaps help me decide if medical opposition to the seven-day policy was a bit more unified, but the evidence from the other negotiations seems not, which in my view weakens the argument that it’s not about the money?

The term junior doctors also covers quite a broad church, from those who are trainees to those who are on the verge of specialising and, therefore, gaining some pretty healthy salaries, which I also think is perhaps lost on the public.

I am aware that some nursing unions have backed the British Medical Association’s stance and I’ve seen many tweets from nurses in support.

None of this has helped me make up my mind. However, what does concern me is the potential damage being done to the relationships between those groups caught on either side, namely doctors and managers, who need to work together to ensure safe care – especially as today’s juniors will progress through the system to become tomorrow consultants.

“I remain unsure of my position. So, what do you as nurses on the frontline think?”

What also concerns me is what happens next, presumably once the junior doctors’ contract is imposed and the dust has somehow settled on whatever outcome follows the striking.

Are nurses, midwives and healthcare support workers next? Ministers have been chipping away at Agenda for Change for several years now. One suspects they will come back again. Nursing staff might find themselves working more unsocial hours for less pay, but without the promise that doctors have of a significant jump in money later in their career.

Anyway, I remain unsure of my position. So, what do you as nurses on the frontline think – are you supporting the junior doctors, against them or secretly wondering what the fuss is about? I’d like to know.


Readers' comments (3)

  • As neither Hunt nor Cameron have actually spelled out what they mean by "7 day NHS" I find their utterances insulting: what was that I did for all those years on Saturdays, Sundays, bank holidays, any given hour of any day of the year? It can't have been work, either on wards or as part of a MH crisis team, as we don't have a 7 day NHS, do we? I must have been shirking off somewhere, mustn't I?

    If they make clear what they actually mean that would be a start...And if Hunt stopped telling lies about the so-called "weekend effect" and the removal of protection around numbers of hours worked that would be even better.

    In the meantime I back the junior doctors to the hilt.

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  • I totally support the doctors and agree with the comments above. Are we really naive enough to believe that our colleagues who we all know already work often without meal breaks, over long hours, often putting themselves on the line every day for patients are prepared to strike over a simple and ultimately harmless but necessary change to their contracts?
    The government would have us believe that they will be working "fewer hours" than ever, but that these will be spread "more effectively" over 7 days at no extra cost. So something for nothing - which is always possible in the NHS - especially if you call blood sweat and tears nothing. Even those members of the public who can't follow the arguments due to all the spin don't buy it.
    The truth is that any enforceable safeguards which prevent Doctors from being asked to work too many hours by managers are being removed in these contracts. leaving the same work force to cover the same services, while being compelled to cover more weekend services than they already do - on even lower pay. Ultimately more work, by fewer than ever staff, for less money.
    Go to Scotland junior doctors where you will be cared for. Or fly abroad where you will be paid for what you do, forget this NHS that you love because very soon it will no longer exist. There is far too much profit to be had in sickness and death to let our perhaps 'humanly imperfect' but ultimately altruistic NHS continue. US health insurers and care providers need to move in because they have to make more profit,to them we are the past and we are in their way. A feeding frenzy is about to begin, Cameron is set to introduce TTIP at which point it will be possible for private companies to sue any government in Europe that creates any law which stands in the way of profit. A 7 day NHS - for 7 days of profit - not for patients.

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  • The truth is NHS Improvement are the Hatchet men and behind Jeremy Hunt are two powerful civil servants that need exposing, including Senior figures link with American insurers. American healthcare stinks and Jeremy Hunts love of American care is as a far I can see a lie. yerr that's also right Simon Stevens and Jeremy Hunt 7 days working is also rubbish nonsense. You wanna base your care on a naff approach and alleged star hospital that has had legal cases involving unclean equipment, union protest and now a legal case involving private parts. GET LOST JEREMY HUNT THE WHOLE NHS DESPISES YOU AND AMERICAN BACKWARDS CARE - TAKE THE HINT AND RESIGN - P.S. TAKE THOSE TWO NASTY CIVIL SERVANTS WITH YOU.

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