According to Hunt and Morgan, your doctors and teachers are militants

First doctors, now teachers. Has the government embarked on a mission to stamp on the caring professions?

Hot on the heels of launching its ‘nuclear option’ of imposing a much-detested new contract on junior doctors, Number 10 chose last week to get rough and ready with the country’s teachers.

The biggest overhaul in education for more than 60 years was revealed not by the Education Secretary but by the Chancellor. George Osborne’s bombshell education announcement – placed, rather peculiarly, in the middle of his Budget – was to turn every state school in England into an “academy” – so-called “forced academisation” or, as the Economist preferred to put it, “the Starbucksification of schools”.

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan immediately turned Jeremy Hunt-like language on complaining teachers, because why not take tips from a man who managed to alienate an entire profession of doctors?

There is “no reverse gear when it comes to our education reforms”, she declared this weekend, as blunt as she was dismissive. Meanwhile, Junior Health Minister Ben Gummer dismissed junior doctors’ strikes as pointless, since “that train has now left the station”.

One has to wonder at the Government’s chutzpah in so bullishly persisting with public service overhauls against which entire professions are united.

But for now, at least, teachers have been spared the Government’s most heavy-handed rhetoric. Junior doctors have been variously described as “militants”, “radicals” and “politically poisoned” – all, apparently, for having the temerity to speak out against a government policy which we believe will endanger the safety of our patients.

Presumably, if teachers remain out of line on “academisation”, they too will be subjected to Government insinuations that their behaviour is somehow akin to that of terrorists.

What is striking in both stand-offs against both teachers and doctors is the Government’s refusal to see our resistance to their policies as being driven by anything other than self-interest. Actually, what most strongly unites our professions is our concern for the most vulnerable people in society – and our steadfast unwillingness to sign up to political spin masquerading as hard evidence.

The “seven-day NHS” is a case in point: a brilliant soundbite dressed up in emotive, patient-centred rhetoric, yet backed by neither the funds nor staff required for its safe delivery. Doctors, steeped in evidence-based medicine, cannot condone the nonsense that an un-costed, unstaffed, seven-day soundbite is genuinely beneficial for patients.

And so it is with academies. The government assertion that chains of “multi-academy trusts” will drive up standards in schools is backed up by surprisingly little evidence that academy chains are any more adroit than local authorities at supervising schools.

Nonetheless, the government persists in branding teachers’ and doctors’ concerns with its policies as a dereliction of our duty to our patients/pupils. “Teaching unions have a choice,” said Nicky Morgan this week. “Spend the next four years doing battle with us and doing down the profession they represent, or stepping up, seizing the opportunities offered… and helping us to shape the future of the education system.”

What the government appears not to have appreciated is the profound resolve of both doctors and teachers to protect our patients and our pupils from unsubstantiated Government spin.

Already, the country’s biggest teaching union has voted to ballot its members on whether to go on strike over the new academy policy. To preside over one public workers’ strike is careless; to precipitate two is positively election-threatening.

David Cameron now potentially faces simultaneous doctors’ strikes, teachers’ strikes and an EU referendum. It’s set to be a long, hot summer.

Originally published in Independent Voices, 27.03.16

One thought

  1. Hi, thank you for your articles, I find it really draining to write about the problems with the gov. and it’s abuse of public services, so I appreciate it when someone else does write.
    However I do have some ‘outside of the box’ ideas.
    In the private sector if the workers are not happy with a company they sometimes manage to do a”buy out” I wonder if there is a similar process we can apply to Ed & health. (Equality across public and private sector). What I mean is, we wouldn’t have to buy the real estate because we already own much of it (except PFIs) and many of the clinical teams just want the opportunity to get on and do the work.
    Historically locals would build up a service that did its best for the locals but often was unaffordable to unemployed (Dylk hospital in Royal Forrest of Dean, payed for by the miners, provided health care for all) , after inception of NHS much of this ‘stock’ transferred to state ownership, some was donated by local wealthy/industrialists. Much of this stock has been replaced by modern facilities over the years, not all of it is PFI.
    The number of structures and management teams that have been created over the last 20yrs to measure what we do and to check on targets is staggering- some of these process in the 90s-00s were just “giant job creation schemes” to address recession and unemployment…on the basis that it is easier to train people to be admin & managers than to be a caring clinical professional.
    We don’t need targets, the public don’t’ need targets; it seems we are paying for crazy amounts of measuring stuff so gov/DoH can tell us they’re doing well (spin, spin, spin).
    I do wonder if this is the party in charge or the civil service that is behind the NHS changes, because even though labour put loads of money into it, we just seem to get more management. I believe quite firmly that we the clinicians and we the public both want the same for and from the NHS,but this is not in common with what the gov & management want and hence the impass.
    But then me, as an oddity, believes that the electorate should be allowed to vote for all the key SoS positions…I.e. Alan Milburn in health ( because he seems to have the best take at the moment) Vince Cable for Business sec/ chancellor ( if he is chancellor the IDS could be ok in DWP but he has to redeem himself) Hague / Ashdown foreign office/MoD, and so on. The politicians should be required to propose how they will carry the country forward and deliver the desires of the electorate ( be a public servant they claim the are) .
    Having said all of that I have no idea how it is achieved. I’m quite cross to be reaching 50 this year and feel that we are in a worse position than in the eighties (except for disability legislation and equal rights/ opportunities).
    I feel quite confident that now we have NICE for analysis of new therapies that if this is given the ‘teeth’ to drive change then the enormous management structure we currently endure would be obsolete.
    I’m tired now and will sign off. Thanks for enduring my thoughts


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