Lord Flight is Chairman of Flight & Partners Recovery Fund, and is a former Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury.
The disgraceful conduct of the BMA, which behaves like the worst of the trade unions prior to the Thatcher Reforms, has not had adequate exposure. It told its members that the proposed new contract – which offers a 13.5 per cent increase in basic pay, an overall pay increase for 75 per cent of the workforce and a guarantee of no pay cuts for anyone – would slash their salaries by 30-40 per cent. The BMA has been negotiating with the Government for three years, during which time there have been three independent processes to broker a settlement and 75 negotiation meetings. The Government has granted 73 concessions towards the BMA’s position. Yet the BMA says it will only drop the strike if it is allowed to resume its obstructive tactics.
Young doctors have been wickedly misled by the BMA to break the Hippocratic Oath – although one in five has had the bravery to cross the picket lines. 125,000 operations and appointments have already been cancelled by 45,000 doctors. This is disgraceful. Not only is the pay deal offered very reasonable, but also young doctors should remember that the taxpayer has invested huge sums in their training.
Part of the reason for the BMA’s aggressive behaviour is that the last Labour Government caved in to its demands for large extra pay and reduced out of hours responsibilities after the BMA declared war over attempts to reform the consultant contract in 2003. Labour gave the consultants a 27 per cent pay rise, along with the right for the first time to opt out of weekend work. Labour also oversaw the 2004 GP contract which increased salaries by 50 per centand so enabled GPs to take up the offer to allow them, for the first time, to opt out of providing out of hours care. The BMA negotiators later admitted they could not believe their luck.
The costs of the NHS have risen from about £20 billion a year when John Major was Prime Minister to £145 billion a year forecast for 2016/17. An independent report has found that 43 per cent of the additional NHS funding has gone on higher pay and prices, largely resulting from Labour’s cave in on pay in 2003/04. Proper manning of hospitals at weekends, moving to a seven-day service, represent a sensible and correct use of resources, because an ageing population and new clinical techniques are increasing the demands on the NHS.
Jeremy Hunt is correct to stand his ground, and should have greater support from both the total community of doctors and the public. The BMA needs “dealing with”, although it is worth noting that many doctors do not now join it. It has knowingly misled up to 45,000 junior doctors to substitute a hypocritical oath for their Hippocratic Oath. The letter from the BMA to junior doctors wrongly assures them that patients’ safety is the responsibility of hospitals and NHS Trusts, not individual doctors. The BMA has even circulated advice stating that doctors should feel no obligation to take responsibility nor return to work if “disaster” struck at their hospital, unless agreed by their Union – contrary to the meaning of the Hippocratic Oath.
It is clear that the unrealistic objective of the BMA is to topple the Government. I just hope those young doctors whom the BMA has misled to go on strike will wake up to how they are being exploited by the BMA.
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I thought that I should say something about the EU Referendum. It strikes me the Government’s “fear campaign” has been over the top and is, if anything, having a contrary impact. People did not like Barack Obama being sent in to tell us what to do, and the main thing that people remember was that the President used the English word “queue” rather than its American equivalent “line”, indicating he had clearly been set up!
George Osborne’s dodgy Treasury dossier went over most people’s heads. Those who understand such territory quickly spotted it was not based on fact but on highly debatable assumptions, with results that were magnified by “Gordon Brown-type” accounting cheating.
The Treasury considered the widest possible concept of income as GDP per household, where they should have taken disposable income per household: the GDP difference was divided not by the number of households, predicted to be 31 million in 2030, but by today’s smaller number of 27 million – both slights of hands boosting the alleged cost of Brexit. The extent to which the Chancellor claims we will be “poorer” is a bogus calculation of what is anyway a bogus concept. The range of independent forecasts of the impact on GDP of leaving the EU varies from minus 6 per cent to plus 10 per cent.
People also felt that the Government had cheated in going against what Parliament had advised in producing its £9m pro-EU membership propaganda document – full of errors and questionable assumptions. It appears, however, that few people have actually read it!
The Remain Campaign is starting to run out of “heavies” to prompt to give dire warnings, where its key weakness is that it has little or nothing positive to say with regard to the claimed advantages of EU membership. It tried to make much of the role of the EU in keeping us safe from terrorists, but Sir Richard Dearlove, the former head of M16 boss, has put paid to that.
As he pointed out, our security and peace over the last half century have stemmed not from the EU but from NATO. We share serious intelligence only with the US, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Senior security figures privately deride EU intelligence sharing as of limited benefit. As Sir Richard pointed out, there could be positive benefits from Brexit, given the enhanced border controls and the extradition powers the UK could introduce outside the EU.