There are secret battles going on all over the country right now: battles to keep teachers, fire fighters, police officers in work, to protect the rights of disabled people, and save children from poverty. The NHS is quietly becoming a war zone all by itself; there are battles to stop stripping student nurses of their bursaries, to stop A&E and maternity closures, to keep community pharmacies open, to challenge consultant contracts, to keep GP practices open, and the most publicly of all; to halt the imposition of the junior doctors contract.
These battles are secret not by our choosing- I have colleagues who have done nothing but work themselves to the bone for the last eight months to try to get the word to you- I hope you were listening. Many mainstream media outlets were not. The uphill struggle to even dent the public perception from the governments spin machine has been titanic. I still think we haven’t got even halfway there.
This isn’t about weekend pay or hours, it’s a little about unsafe staffing and a lot about dangerous underfunding of the national health service. What it’s mostly about is challenging a government set on dismantling the free at the point of use service of the NHS.
Since 2010, on every recordable measure the NHS is failing: waiting times, staff retention and recruitment, funding ‘deficits’. If you want to get really simple: death rates are up. Let me reiterate that- since 2010/12, after fifty years of steady decline, death rates in the UK have started to rise. More people are dying. THIS is the result of a financial crash and a Tory government ‘not letting a good crisis go to waste‘- pushing an ideology of public sector sell off and shrinking of government that is the core of conservatism.
You might think they’ve gone too far- I do. So does Prof Don Berwick, the Nuffield Trust, the Financial Times and the Kings Fund to name a few. The deficit is £97 billion, the national debt is £1.6 trillion– there is no ‘balancing of the books’. Austerity was a great lie. This is a government of PR, not policy.
Now circle around to the junior doctors contract dispute. The contract is a means to provide lucrative cheap elective weekend work at the cost of safety to patients during the week. There are no more doctors to provide these services. The National Audit Office and Cass Business school said these changes ‘posed a genuine risk’ and may ‘breach employer duty of care’.
Why would David Cameron do this then? Because for twenty or thirty years successive governments have tried to privatise health in the UK: the head of the NHS is an ex-US health care executive, Virgin own many NHS community services ALREADY in the UK, the former Health secretary now works for a private health consultancy, £1.5 billion pounds of private contracts linked to companies of sitting MPs. Still don’t believe me? Here is the plan- from 1988 Britains Biggest Enterprise by Oliver Letwin, current Tory advisor and strategist. Here is the plan revisited in 2005- Direct Democracy, co-written by current health secretary Jeremy Hunt.
The plan is to drive down terms and condition, create an unworkable and unsafe NHS, and then in a crisis- roll in private companies. As they say- ‘never let a good crisis go to waste’. While people, other normal human beings will suffer; your families, grandparents, uncles and aunts.
That is what this fight is about. The battle for the NHS has raged for thirty years, and you mostly had no idea about it.
I have colleagues who spend all their own time organising, campaigning, giving interviews, challenging the government to show us we are wrong; and thus far all we are met with is lies and spin. Colleagues who have taught themselves law, economics, public relations, journalism, song-writing. These men and women are all working doctors, nurses, physios and AHPs- saving your life as a day job, trying to save your health service from home.
We are doctors who want to do our jobs; to protect the health of our patients. We are fighting because banging our heads against the wall just isn’t enough anymore.
We will fight them in the courts. The BMA is launching a legal challenge to the contract. It will force the government to legally show us that they will not harm patients, that they will not create further crisis in the NHS, that they are doing as they say, and acting in the best interests of patients. We know they are not.
We will fight them on the streets. Join us on the picket line on March 9th and 10th March. Show them you value the service and staff of the NHS. Come and talk to us at Meet The Doctors events. Find out more here.
We will fight them in Parliament. The NHS reinstatement bill has its second reading on the 11th March- it challenges the legality of privatising the NHS and the market that encourages private takeover, at huge public cost. Write to your MP and tell them you support this bill. https://speakout.38degrees.org.uk/campaigns/685
The fiercest battle is sometimes one you never heard of. Don’t let this one be – join us in our fight to save our NHS. To paraphrase a superb junior doctor on social media; “in two decades time you can tell your kids the reason there’s still an NHS is because twenty years ago you stood up for it”.