Instead of joining the junior doctors picket lines and backing the strike like junior doctors and Labour members have asked her to, Labour′s Shadow Health Secretary appears to have been spending her time organising a cross-party letter to Jeremy Hunt calling for a trial imposition of the contract.
The letter, signed by Heidi Alexander, Conservative Dr Dan Poulter, Lib Dem Norman Lamb and the SNP's Dr Philippa Whitford and supposedly with the backing of the BMA (though it unclear through what mechanism), suggests that a limited ″trial″ imposition of the contract would allow evaluation of its effect and lead to ″real understanding of the problem″.
This is despicable behaviour. Not only does it not trust the thousands of doctors (and other health professionals) who have been saying unequivocally for months that the contract will not be fair or safe, it actively suggests that they ″misunderstand″ and that an in-situ evaluation of the contract′s effect on weekend working and safe working would lead to these misunderstandings being cleared up.
A trial run of the contract is not necessary for junior doctors to understand the impact it will have, and many of the impacts junior doctors have identified would not show up for many months or years after the contract change. Junior doctors fully understand the effect it will have and have been shouting it from the roof-tops for the last few months.
I can see that Alexander may see this as a clever ploy — make Hunt seem incredibly unreasonable and negotiate small changes to the contract that are shown as unworkable by the trial imposition. But it is a ploy which misses the larger picture and undermines the junior doctors fighting for the future of the NHS.
The larger picture is that this is not just a dispute about the junior doctors′ contract (though even if it was Alexander should have put her faith in their arguments and backed them up), it is a fight to save the NHS. The junior doctors′ struggle has inspired a reawakening of health struggles and that reawakening is not yet complete — more struggles are to come. Labour should be using and encouraging this momentum, not attempting to stifle it!
Come down to the picket lines and demonstrations, Heidi, and support the junior doctors′ fight to save the NHS.