24/7 Smokescreen

doctorstrikeI’m backing the Junior Doctors’ strike all the way. Not least because being able to withdraw one’s labour is a vital part of our democracy and protection for workers against exploitation.

Yes, even doctors should have the right to withdraw their labour. They continued to cover emergency care. Senior doctors (consultants) stepped in to fill in the gaps and make sure patient care wasn’t compromised. Patient safety was never at risk. Yes, there was some disruption as clinics and operations were put off for another day. But quite frankly, that’s the point. Strikes are meant to be disruptive, otherwise there is no point in having them.

But mostly I’m supporting the strike because the government is deliberately and systematically undermining the NHS for its own ends. Its rhetoric about improving care and developing the 24/7 NHS is a complete red herring. Or total bollocks if you don’t mind me being less polite.

The government isn’t interested in improving patient care, only in saving money. We already have a 24/7 NHS. Nurses are on the wards all day every day. Perhaps there aren’t enough nurses. The scandal at the Mid Staffs hospitals led to an independent review to establish how many nurses is enough, but now this programme has been stopped.

Doctors are also on the wards all day every day. Shift patterns, rotas and on call may vary at night and at weekends, but doctors are there. Is the new contract accompanied by a plan to employ more junior doctors, so that more doctors are available? No, don’t be silly! The same number of doctors will be spread more thinly across the week because mostly they sit and twiddle their thumbs Monday to Friday.

But apparently it is possible to run a truly 24/7 NHS only with doctors and nurses. Because as yet I have heard no discussion at all about increasing the numbers or working patterns of anyone else who makes the NHS work. Despite suggesting he wants the NHS to offer the same services on Saturdays and Sundays as well as during the week, it seems that this will happen without any extra services being supplied by speech therapists, physiotherapist, occupational therapists, dietitians, clinical psychologists, pharmacists, radiographers, theatre staff, porters, phlebotomists etc etc etc. The list goes on and I’m sure I’ve left people out – please add your own profession in the comments if it’s you, sorry!

The media is fond of scare stories about our hospitals, and the Tories seem determined to blame the doctors. Targets for waits in A&E to be less than four hours are now way off being met. But this fuss over the junior doctors’ new contract is a smoke screen, and doctors are the scapegoat. The government isn’t really interested in making it better, because that will cost money. Jeremy Hunt might like to tell you that the Tories are investing more money in the NHS, but apart from being a trick with the figures, it is putting small amounts of money in at one end and taking vast amounts out at the other.

Why do patients have to wait for more than four hours in A&E? Why do people have to wait for operations or have them cancelled at short notice? Mostly, this is because there are not enough beds. Why are there not enough beds? Because they are already occupied, often by well people. People who are no longer sick enough to need to be in hospital, but are not well enough to go back to the circumstances they were living in before. People who need extra support at home, or a place in a residential home, or other form of social care. But they can’t go home because this care isn’t available or isn’t ready or takes too long to organise. Who supplies and pays for this kind of care? Mostly, local councils. And which area of government spending has seen the most dramatic and devastating cuts since the Conservatives came to power? Yes, local councils!

So I don’t believe for one minute that this dispute is between two groups of people who both genuinely believe they want the best for patient care and the future of the NHS. One side talks about a 24/7 NHS but has no intention of doing what it takes to look after the NHS. The other side is already delivering it.

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One thought on “24/7 Smokescreen

  1. I concur completely with your views. I think it is a cynical move on the part of this reactionary government as part of their ideological push towards hiving off more care to the private sector. I suspect they hope the bullish statements by Jeremy Hunt and others aided by the right wing press will result in a swing in public opinion against the junior doctors.

    Of course as you say there is already 24 hour service provided every day of the week for emergency care. However even though there may be innovative ways to use staff more efficiently (which could adapt to local circumstances),without a further massive investment to allow for everything else that doctors need to do their job properly there could be the situation where there are more doctors on site, but they can’t do a proper day’s work as the rest of the service is still working Monday to Friday.

    I comment from the experience of 34 years work in the NHS (23 as consultant in a specialised unit) until I retired in 2011. My decision to retire early was partly influenced by the cumulative effects from the toll of working unsocial hours for most of my career

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