Much to the chagrin of my nine and five year olds, this morning’s school run was door-to-door Radio 4. It was strike day – the second time myself and other junior doctors have felt compelled to leave our patients for the picket line. After hearing former BBC political editor, Nick Robinson, explain that Jeremy Hunt had declined the BBC’s invitation for interview, my son asked a rather Robinson-esque question himself: “Mummy, why won’t Jeremy Hunt do an interview with a junior doctor? Is it because they would overpower him?”
I live more in hope than expectation that my health secretary may answer this question. Only this week he has assured us again that to junior doctors, his door is always open. So open, and yet so elusive: since he threatened to impose his contract some six months ago, to the best of my knowledge Jeremy Hunt has not been seen in public with a single junior doctor.
This afternoon – cold and somber after another poignant day on the picket line, full of guilt and unease at not having been there for my patients – I was struck anew by what motivates Jeremy Hunt’s unavailability. Is fear of being ‘overpowered’ genuinely what underlies his distance from the juniors to whom he purports to have thrown open his doors? Is it really trepidation that provokes his increasingly martial language? When I started life as a junior doctor, never could I have imagined this toxic world in which the Secretary of State for Health would threaten me with a “nuclear option”. Since when are young doctors so threatening, so dangerous to a career politician that they require linguistic bullying into submission?
At the weekend, I came as close as I suspect I ever will to articulating my concerns to Jeremy Hunt. Sitting on a BBC sofa, he listened to Andrew Marr reading my words to him. But his response could not have been more disappointing. On hearing that he has made me feel demoralised, insulted and cheap – that I have never felt so despairing or so close to quitting medicine – he blamed the BMA for stoking my distress by lying about the implications of his contract.
That, to me, encapsulates precisely how not to resolve this debacle. Instead of heeding the concerns of frontline doctors like me, Jeremy Hunt used them to score a cheap political point at the expense of the BMA. No wonder we are angry. Doctors are patient-centred, not political. We just want to get back to looking after people. We are sick and tired of being spun against because trust, more than anything, is our profession’s core value. We earn our patients’ trust through acting with honesty and integrity, and we expect the same from our health secretary.