Gagged and bound. NHS doctors today.

“The airline industry has learnt that pilots must feel they can speak out”

Jeremy Hunt, May 2016

Imagine this.

You are a doctor, resident in hospital, not quite a consultant. You are employed by the hospital, but you rotate through different areas and different hospitals to broaden your experience of different practices. This is designed to make you a better, safer doctor.
One day you come to work, and find you are the only doctor working- there is no one else rota’d to be there. You have to look after your own hundred patients, but now you need to look after two hundred more. You are desperately worried this is not safe. People might get hurt.
As you have been taught to do, as a doctor and a hospital worker, you raise the alarm. You phone your bosses and tell them, you phone their bosses and tell them too. You try your best to keep people alive.
A few months later you sit down with your bosses, and they feel you harmed the reputation of the hospital. They sack you. Not just from that job, but from all training. In a single swipe, your career is over.


Fair? No. Safe? Definitely not. Legal? Surprisingly, and reprehensibily, yes.
At least according to a similar recent legal case against a junior doctor, Dr Chris Day, that decided that the sacking of a doctor for raising alarms over patient safety, for refusing to cover up negligence and potential harm to patients, is not only legal, but a ‘conscious choice of parliament’. The case is currently going to appeal in the Court of Appeal.
Does that sound right to you? As a patient? As a taxpayer? Your health service, at the absolute frontline, is staffed by junior doctors. These are the doctors that see you when you walk in the door, they will see you every day in hospital, they will do your surgery or keep your lungs breathing for you, they will resuscitate you if your heart stops beating. If there’s something wrong, you can guarantee, a nurse or a junior doctor will see it.
Legally- the hospital can’t sack a doctor for speaking up there and then. But doctors in training rotate department every 4-6 months and rotate hospital nearly every year. There is nothing to stop a ‘troublemaking’ doctor who points out dangerous care from having their career ended as soon as they move on to their next placement. A legal loophole, so dangerous it could swallow the entire NHS.
This has huge implications. Now we know this, many doctors, myself included, would think twice about speaking out. That in itself is a crime. We have mortgages and families- our livelihood cannot rely on the goodwill of pressured hospital managers. If a manager decides to, they can end your career, without recrimination.
I’d like to say the BMA and the GMC would step in to protect a doctor in this situation. The BMA proposed a clause in the new contract to cover this, but it’s legally flawed. The GMC have just been taken over by the department of Health, a conflict of interest in the making.

I’d like to say the Health Secretary, with his long term obsession with ‘whistleblowing’ and patient safety would help- but he himself spent taxpayer money cementing this loophole, keeping junior doctors vulnerable to dismissal for raising alarms.

How has this happened?

Well, all roads lead back to the government appointed body called Health Education England. Trainee doctors are employed by hospitals but hold a general training ‘number’ with HEE that delivers the doctors training over years, and partly pays their salary to their rotating hospital. This arrangement means they aren’t technically covered in law as our ’employer’, so can act with impunity in dismissing whistleblowers.

Funnily enough this is the same ‘training’ body that is threatening hospitals to cut funding for junior doctors if they don’t impose the contract upon them. This is how Jeremy Hunt dodged the legal challenge against imposition- by passing the buck, once again, to an organisation that can’t be sued, currently outside employment law. Proving they are legally our employers, as Chris Day is arguing, may have huge implications for further challenging the ‘imposition’ of the junior doctor contract.


Throughout this year we, as trainees, have fundamentally lost trust in the system. Through incidents like this, through the junior doctor contract dispute, through the years of increasing pressure on resources, target chasing and being ignored.
We have lost trust in the structures that run the NHS and their heads- Health Education England has proved it is neither interested in the ‘education’ of its members nor the ‘health’ of the patients they protect.
As long as we don’t get sacked, we won’t be ‘junior’ doctors for long. In time we will all be your consultants and GPs, the clinical leaders of the NHS. What then? Will we still carry a culture of fear and denial, instilled in us by a system that’s supposed to train and nurture us? Let’s hope not.

The future of a safe NHS depends on it. If you want to do something to safeguard that future, donate to Dr Chris Day’s legal fund here. He needs to raise £100,000 to continue his fight for whistleblowers everywhere.

Help make sure his voice, and all of our voices, are heard.

Juniordoctorblog.com

The future of the NHS and junior doctors is bleak. Can we change it?

It’s clear, despite widespread junior doctor support for further reasonable industrial action against imposition, that the BMA has folded. Now in full “supporting transition” mode, the early imposed trainees already report chaotic rotas, trusts skipping pay protection clauses and lack of coherent safety reporting structures. Many doctors have left, or are considering leaving, the BMA.

Obviously into the midst of this Jeremy Hunt puts the boot in. Keen to build on the perceived political capital of pushing the BMA into withdrawal and supposedly ‘winning’ his High Court case against the contract, he goes onto announce plans to chain doctors to the NHS for four years after qualification, and to replace the ‘foreign’ doctors that prop up the NHS as it is, with ‘homegrown’ doctors.  His plan to expand medical student places by 1500 a year starting from 2018 isn’t unwelcome – it’s just dangerously unrealistic and overtly xenophobic. Doctors entering medical school today will enter the workplace, chained to the NHS, in 2021/22.

What will life be like then?

Hospital Activity
It’s fairly straightforward to extrapolate UK demand by 2022, and the Nuffield Trust have already done the work [ref]**. They report from 2014 predicted NHS demand, expressed in bed days, will roughly rise by 1.7%/year. That means by 2020/21, demand will have risen by 8.7% and by 2021/22, 11% compared to today.

Funding

By 2021, bar any dramatic announcements in the Autumn statement, the King’s Fund predict NHS funding in real-terms will rise by £4.5 billion, a rise of 4%. However, the current deficit this year is £1.8 billion, so this is actually just £2.7 billion to spend, a true rise of just 2.3%*.  Meanwhile, hospital demand will have risen by 2020/21 to 8.7%, which means each extra pound will need to work four times as hard just to stand still. Given waiting times in A&E and surgery have never been longer and the current deficit is the largest ever recorded, the system already appears to be stretched to crisis point.  Imagining it can now stretch to accommodate an efficiency of four times what it currently  can achieve is lunacy.

This prediction also relies on being able to discharge patients, reducing pressures on hospital, but social care has also had it’s funding slashed, back to just 0.9% of GDP by 2020, with an estimated shortfall there of £3-3.5 billion. It’s not going to get better.

Hospital bosses know this, and have already spoken out. NHS Providers CEO Chris Hopson and NHS Chief Executive Simon Stevens have both said current funding is unsustainable .

What will that look like on the ground? Well, resources will be diminished, pushing people out of hospital beds will become more commonplace, and with no staff budget more and more hospitals may have to close departments due to lack of staff to run services safely. Here is a list of sixteen hospital departments that have closed this year. Expect this to grow. This might mean working in hospitals without services on site, sending patients miles away and arranging urgent transfers to other hospitals, which is less safe, and very time-consuming, to already overstretched staff.

Training/workforce

As of 2015, there were 41,165 consultants and 36,919 GPs in the NHS,  plus 54,000 junior doctors, with 25% of them trained overseas, either EU or non-EU. For GPs and consultants, the NHS plans to increase this by 5000 a piece, or 14% by 2020. However, new workforce modelling predicts we may need as many as 12,000 more GPs to run a thread bones service, and 24,000 to run a safe and well staffed one.

I can’t find the numbers of junior staff required, but if we simply match demand in 2024, 14% compared to today, the ‘extra’ doctors would need to be 7560 more than today. It would taken ten years to catch up to demand, by 2034. That’s a huge deficit to walk into.

There’s of course a plan to expand the numbers of non-doctors to fill the shortfall;  non-medical endoscopists, surgical assistants, physicians assistants are all already active in the NHS. What this will mean for junior doctors is hard to gauge – it may help training, it may hinder, and a lot of work will need to be done to work out how workplace issues such as medicolegal responsibility and training will be impacted by the increasing use of non-medical staff doing work previously done by junior doctors.

And that’s of course assuming all the ‘foreign’ doctors are allowed to ‘stay’. Theresa May claims they can stay until at ‘least’ 2025, but why would they? If even 10% of the overseas trained doctors left the NHS in the next ten years, it would be utter cataclysm.

Morale

Needless to say, being chained to an organisation for four years, that requires you to stretch four times more work out of it’s resources compared to today, that’s missing thousands of staff, with hospitals in various states of closure, might dampen morale.

The imposition of the new contract for junior doctors of course will only make all of this worse. As budgets are tightened further cuts will need to be made to staff groups – the strikes this year will be far from the last to hit the NHS.

NHS

Ultimately all of this speculation relies heavily on the idea an NHS will still be the main provider of healthcare in the UK by 2024. Looking at the staffing, financial and patient demand projections, no credible plan emerges to preserve the NHS. Services will slowly degrade, and more and more private options will come available. Already a private Uber-style service is emerging into the current GP crisis. This could be the snowball that starts the avalanche, as more and more wealthier citizens are pushed towards private healthcare.

My point here is the battlefield ahead is perilous, for patients and staff, as we are guided by NHS bosses that are unheard and ministers either deliberately or incompetently steering us towards rocky shores. Whatever Jeremy Hunt’s plans, 1500 doctors a year will not make any impact whatsoever in 2024, far from being ‘self-sufficient’, and we will have huge crises in senior staff and resources that no amount of fresh-faced ‘homegrown’ graduates will solve. If our hardworking and invaluable overseas staff leave, the NHS will collapse instantly.

 

That’s the future of the NHS and junior doctors – bleak isn’t it?

So what are you going to do about it?

juniordoctorblog.com

 

*This assumes there will be no deficit for the next three years – an extremely tall assumption. More likely, there will be no extra money whatsoever.

**barring some huge paradigm shift in medicine, or an epidemic disaster. Brexit may count in this respect – the fall in the pound vs the Euro has made medicines more expensive, and the loss of research grants has made teaching hospitals poorer.

 

 

This is everything wrong with Jeremy Hunt’s tenure as Health Secretary

Yesterday in the Mail Hunt made at least two completely bogus claims;
1. He ‘won’ the judicial review into imposition and gained High Court backing for the junior contract

2. Post Brexit he is going to remove foreign doctors and replace them with ‘homegrown’ trainees 

There’s been enough of heated opinion lately- so let’s just serve cold hard facts.
1. The Justice 4 Health team took Hunt to court on three premises- that a) he does not have power to impose the contract b) that he acted without clarity and transparency and c) he acted irrationally. Despite a lot of press spin saying Hunt won, he actually just dodged the issue, by claiming that he never imposed and ‘no junior doctor’ thought that he was. As in last week’s blog here is the many instances that Hunt said he was. 

The case pushed Hunt to clarify in law that he isn’t imposing the contract, simply passing the buck to local hospitals. The judge also found he could’ve acted with less ambiguity but found it hard to demonstrate the high legal threshold for irrationality.

So far from ‘winning the case’, Hunt was forced back from claiming falsely he was imposing leaving local negotiations with hospitals now a real possibility.

Secondly, Hunt’s plan to replace foreign doctors with ‘homegrown’ talent is as laughable as it is xenophobic.
We are already in the midst of a workforce crisis- applications to medical school dropped 13.5% in the last 5 years, and increasing numbers of junior doctors are leaving training and the country. On top of this, the existing doctor workforce increasingly cover the work of two or more doctors- 7 in 10 doctors work in departments where at least one doctor is missing, 2/5 of consultant posts are unfilled, and 96% of doctors work in wards with nurse shortages. 
To add insult to injury, health education England, the body that funds training of so-called ‘homegrown’ talent, has had its budget slashed by £1 billion next year– all on Hunt’s watch.

Now around 25% of the doctor workforce are non-UK, and 10-15% of all NHS staff. 

We are well below the European average in hospital beds per person and doctors per person in the NHS as we are- yet Jeremy Hunt plans to push away up to a quarter of the workforce, cut the training budget to train less doctors who are already doing two or more doctors work, and make no plans to actually address the drop in ‘homegrown’ talent already, a direct repercussion of Hunt’s own morale plummeting war against the profession. 
Those are the facts. Unfortunately if you read the Mail comments you will see why Hunt would ignore them; there’s a segment of the populace that laps up this anti-immigrant posturing, even if it’s completely insane as an actual plan. 

This is everything wrong with Hunts tenure as Health Secretary- politics before policy before patients. The NHS will only continue to suffer if it goes unchallenged. 
Juniordoctorblog.com