(Originally published in the Independent, 13.05.16)

I’ll be honest. My most militant act at home recently was staying up beyond midnight watching Parks and Recreation, with an actual cup of tea in my bedroom.So why on earth have I just started a permanent protest outside the Department of Health, sitting in position at a table outside until Jeremy Hunt agrees to re-open talks? Why have I decided to stay there for 24 hours at a time, before swapping in other doctors to carry on the protest in 12-hour stints?

Because, in many ways, having Jeremy Hunt as my Secretary of State has begun to feel like dating the Wolf of Wall Street.

It’s not the physical charm – the ‘chiselled jaw’ and ‘lean, clean-cut, bedside manner’ – that left the last Mail journalist who interviewed Mr Hunt all aquiver. No, it’s being in a relationship with an individual whose smile never slips, whose patter never falters, as he promises you the world while blithely fleecing you.

Mr Hunt’s biggest sell, the ‘truly seven-day NHS’, is in effect a special offer on a subprime mortgage sitting at the heart of last year’s Conservative Election Manifesto. Seven for five. No, really, folks – seven for five. It’s the pledge that saves thousands of lives a year without costing you a penny.

Sounds too good to be true? Well, exactly. Every doctor and nurse in the NHS knows all too well that the government’s refusal to fund its manifesto soundbite downgrades its ‘pledge’ on seven-day services to just another junk bond. There are no cheapskate solutions for improving patient safety. But if anyone’s going to peddle them, Hunt is the consummate pro at polishing junk until it shines.

To add insult to injury – because no-one wants a genuine commitment to improved weekend services more than the junior doctors on the frontline of delivering them – we have to endure an extra layer of oleaginous doublespeak. You see, Jeremy Hunt’s office is an architectural miracle, possessing the most publicly open – yet resoundingly closed – door in the whole history of entrances.

For months now he’s been telling us that, for us, his door is always open, while simultaneously taking exquisite care not to be seen in public with a single junior doctor since this debacle began (other than the one he sprinted up a staircase to avoid).

You’ll appreciate our cynicism on finding out that the infamous door – never knowingly opened to any of us – has apparently just been slammed shut. That’s right. Two weeks before the UK’s first ever all-out doctors’ strike, Mr Hunt’s response to the crisis has been to close off any hope of dialogue with the curt statement that his door is now firmly ‘closed’.

Is it pride? Is it pique? Just what can possibly mean more to the Health Secretary than getting back round the table to find a solution that averts the next industrial action?

We – the UK’s 54,000 junior doctors – are absolutely desperate here. Striking is an act of last resort that goes against every grain of our instincts to care for our patients. There simply has to be a way of resolving this. No dispute is so poisonous, so intractable, that words cannot defuse it.

For the Health Secretary to bury his head in the sand at this critical time simply isn’t good enough. The stakes are far too high. Junior doctors are tired of Jeremy Hunt’s disingenuous updates on the status of his door. We need to talk. He needs to talk. Patients, above all, need us to talk. So – would it be so outlandish to just, you know, talk?

Grassroots junior doctors like me have been compelled to take direct action. For 12 hours a day, seven days a week, two of us will be stationed outside the entrance to the Department of Health, waiting for Jeremy Hunt to let us in.

After all, there is no earthly reason for a man who claims to value patient safety not to choose dialogue above stubborn silence. Even Jordan Belfort couldn’t polish that one.

Posted by:doctoroxford

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