Andrea Jenkyns is MP for Morley and Outwood.
The dispute around new contracts for junior doctors is becoming increasingly divisive.
The BMA’s increasingly radical leadership has sought to turn medics against the Government in a most unedifying way, orchestrated by figures at the top of the BMA who are determined that the action taken by doctors should be the “first crack in the edifice of austerity”.
And today it has led to an unprecedented full walk-out by doctors that is unimaginably dangerous for patients and raises serious questions about the judgement of that BMA leadership.
Thousands of operations cancelled. Consultants struggling to cope with the shortfall in staffing levels. And all because the British Medical Association refuses to negotiate with the Government on the issue of Saturday pay.
I ask you: is this proportionate? Is withdrawing junior doctors from emergency paediatric units consistent with doctors demanding a far better settlement than any other member of the clinical team receive? Nurses, paramedics, technicians – none of them will enjoy as favourable terms as doctors will under the Government’s proposed new contracts.
Doctors will shout that this strike is not about pay or Saturday working, but patient safety. They march under banners declaring the contract ‘Not Safe, Not Fair’. They balk at the suggestion that they have been taken for a ride by the BMA, which they firmly believe has their best interests at heart and actually cares about reaching a conclusion which is best for patients.
Doctors are some of our brightest and best. That is a fact. They are some of the most compassionate, caring people in our society who do incredible work keeping us healthy, saving our lives and those of our loved ones. This is why it is such a tragedy that the BMA has totally failed to best represent their interests in this dispute.
You only have to look at the facts of the new contracts published by NHS Employers to see the massive improvements over previous versions, which the BMA agreed was not fit for purpose as far back as 2008.
Doctors will work more reasonable shift patterns which will more appropriately allocate resources over seven days. The total length of their working week will be reduced from 91 to 72 hours a week, and they will get a pay premium if they work one or more Saturdays in a four week period. It will bring an end to the weeks of night shifts, meaning doctors are less tired. Their basic pay will go up by 13.5 per cent at a time when other NHS workers are seeing annual rises of 1 per cent. And there will be new safeguards to ensure rotas are safe and do not compromise patient safety.
These improvements are not just accepted by the Government. They are also accepted by the 500 junior doctors who have already accepted jobs from August. Professor Bruce Keogh, the NHS England Medical Director, has said that this contract “will address the long hours and related safety issues which have been such a cause for concern.”
Despite this, the BMA is still willing to put patients in harm’s way to protest against doctors only getting a premium on weekends from 5pm on Saturday until 7am on a Monday.
The world has changed. People’s lives are more 24/7 than ever before, and we need a health service that reflects that. The Government has moved to agree 90 per cent of the new terms in negotiation, and moved significantly on the issue of Saturday pay. But there has to be a line in the sand. Where the Government has been entirely flexible, the BMA has petulantly walked away from the table and refused to be negotiate.
Let’s get one thing very clear. This imposition is only going ahead because Sir David Dalton, the highly respected Chief Executive of Salford Royal hospital, has said that there was no prospect of a negotiated outcome.
The BMA has walked away from the negotiation, not the Government.
The Government has given so much of what the BMA wanted, yet they continue on this dangerous and damaging political crusade which seriously risks damaging public confidence in medics, which would be the ultimate tragedy.
They have turned this into a vicious personal vendetta against Jeremy Hunt, a man who is determined to ensure we meaningfully tackle problems with quality of care in the NHS in order to create the safest healthcare system anywhere in the world.
I say: enough. The BMA must call off future action and accept a contract which is better for patients and for doctors.
No dispute is worth the death of a patient, and I can only hope this strike does not lead to that.