Even the World Health Organisation weighed in this week, when the WHO Director of Health Workforce, Jim Campbell, pointed out that the gender discrimination of the new contract contravenes the UN Commission on Equality and Human Rights.
It really does take a Health Secretary who’s deaf as well as mute to ignore so bullishly this clamour of authoritative voices. For the self-proclaimed champion of patient safety, Mr Hunt’s refusal to get back round the table because, in his stark words, “that door is closed”, is quite an elevation of personal pride above patients. After all, losing face costs patients nothing, yet this dispute risks everything.
For junior doctors like me, striking is an act of desperation I would do almost anything to avoid. But my duty as a doctor compels me towards, not away from the picket line. I am striking against the government’s dishonesty in promising the electorate nothing more than a seven-day soundbite. For all the rhetorical brilliance of a “seven-day NHS” – dressed up in emotive, patient-centred spin – the “pledge” is backed by neither the funds nor staff required for its safe delivery.
There are no new doctors for Mr Hunt’s new weekend services. No nurses. No resources of any kind. And trying to stretch us more thinly across seven days, not five, can only cripple a workforce in despair. Believe me, it is the exhausted, overworked, demoralised doctors created by this contract who in the long-term may inadvertently put your life at risk.
The greatest barrier to resolving this debacle is not medical “militancy”, but the Government’s refusal to see doctors’ opposition to the contract as being driven by anything other than self-interest. Doctors practice evidence-based medicine. Almost everything we do for our patients is grounded in hard science. Yet the government has failed to provide any data of any kind demonstrating that “seven-day services” will benefit patients.
Worse still, as Charlie Massey, the Department of Health’s Director of Strategy was recently forced to admit to the Public Accounts Committee, the government doesn’t even know how much seven-day services will cost, nor how may doctors they require. “It seems like you are flying blind,” exclaimed one incredulous MP on the committee. Charlie Massey had no answer.
There have to be other ways to solve this. The Prime Minister – whose silence on this matter has been deafening – must step up and get his Health Secretary back around the table. If he won’t do it for patients, then maybe realpolitik will motivate him instead. First tax credits, then disability allowances. David Cameron risks looking increasingly nasty if he continues to allow politics to trump patients in this debacle.