Junior doctors must continue to stand firm against the creeping marketisation of the NHS, writes Mona Kamal
After junior doctors voted to reject a re-negotiated contract earlier this summer, the BMA yesterday announced a return to strike action escalating to 5 consecutive days beginning from the 12th September. A decision for full withdrawal of labour is an extremely difficult one for any healthcare professional, a fact which cannot be overstated. Our continued resolve (almost one year after this dispute began) therefore only serves to highlight the unacceptable nature of this contract and the serious threat it poses both to the care we provide and to the sustainability of a publicly provided NHS.
It is a contract which fails to address the already understaffed service, fails to provide adequate protection against working unsafe hours, and will enshrine a gender pay gap within the profession. Crucially its “cost-neutrality” aiming to spread five days worth of resources over seven is simply unworkable.
The Tory 'strategy' for managing our public services over the past six years appears to be characterised by demanding more for less and then demonising the workforce when it struggles to deliver. The junior doctors' strike remains crucial as it signifies the first outright rejection of this strategy and a rejection of the austerity agenda that is driving it.
It is utterly galling that Theresa May accuses junior doctors of playing politics when the truth of it is that this dispute has grown entirely from a meaningless pre-election sound bite promising "a truly seven day NHS" by her predecessor. The Tories promised a seven day service but failed to mention that they had no intention of resourcing it and would instead force it through (by way of unilateral imposition) and fund it off the backs of the already over- stretched workforce. This is not only potentially unlawful, it is a reckless decision that gambles with patient safety.
As doctors, it is our natural instinct to place the quality of the patient's experience at the centre of decision making and to prioritise patient care. Our ability to do so is already being undermined via the unprecedented austerity cuts to health and social care budgets which has seen record closures of beds and A&E departments and withdrawal of other community services. The quality of care we provide is also being threatened by creeping marketisation and involvement of private healthcare providers which is eroding the public service ethos that makes the NHS so precious. We must continue to stand firm against these attacks.
The fight against austerity and against the pernicious forces of privatisation is currently being played out within the junior doctors' dispute and our fight to safeguard the quality of care that we can deliver - that surely is everyone's fight.
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