Starting today, Britain will be facing several weeks of NHS disruption, as junior doctors (a title which refers to any medical professional who has not yet reached consultancy level) go on strike, during what is usually one of the busiest periods of the year. This is the first example of such action for more than thirty years. On 21st November, more than 98% of junior doctors polled by the British Medical Association (BMA) voted in favour of strike action, in response to Jeremy Hunt’s remarkably unfair new contract propositions. Faced with the prospect of a 30% pay cut, the abolition of restrictions on shift patterns, and the ‘standard working day’ being extended to 22.00 and to include weekends, it is hardly surprising there is anger amongst the profession.
Junior medics have been threatened with contract revisions of one form or another since 2012. Calls from the Department of Health for changes to the contracts clashed catastrophically with the coalition government’s determination to improve weekend medical services, and to create a “seven-day NHS”. Now, after having been exploited as a political pawn for almost three years, junior doctors are “talking with their feet”.
Opinion has been divided on this subject, some choosing to support the government in their crusade against the foot soldiers of the NHS, whilst others have backed the angry, often vocal junior medics. One thing, however, is clear: the Health Secretary will emerge from this fight far more battered and bruised than his boss, David Cameron, or any junior doctor in scrubs involved in the strike.
As Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt holds one of the most important positions in British government. He is graced with a phenomenal budget, is in charge of almost 1.5m employees, and has previously been spoken of as a potential candidate for the soon-to-be-vacant post of Tory leader. Clearly, he is one of the most influential men in the British government; yet his response to the proposed strike action was merely that it was “very, very disappointing news”, which seems a rather beige reaction from the man responsible for the greatest disruption to healthcare services in a generation.
The apathy does not stop there. Junior doctors have approached Hunt on several occasions in recent weeks, in an attempt to try and resolves their differences and put an end to planned industrial action. On 22nd November, more than 600 professionals signed a letter “imploring” Hunt to intervene, yet silence still rang through Whitehall.
It would be naive to presume that politics is a fair and equal game of give and take, but one thing that it certainly must be is impassioned. Cameron may not listen to his opposition when it comes to the divisive issue of Syrian intervention, but without a doubt, he will fight his corner. Hunt, on the other hand, seems to be entirely lacking in enthusiasm for either his position or his policies, a stance that will not convince anybody of the legitimacy of these already controversial ideas.
Apathetic, uninteresting, and possessive over policies that have upset more than a million people; it seems the poll card for the leadership candidates just got that little bit smaller.