The new Tory government has wasted little time in stepping up its attacks on the NHS.
Jeremy Hunt (Secretary of State for Health) has announced plans for a 24/7 NHS and all-out war on hospital consultants.
This prompted a furious backlash from doctors across the country. And the hashtag #iminworkjeremy is reminding Mr Hunt that he already oversees a comprehensive 24-hour, 7-day week National Health Service.
The backdrop to this latest fight between the government and NHS workers is the recent recommendations by the Doctors and Dentists Pay Review Board. The British Medical Association walked away from discussions with the government over the renegotiation of doctors contracts last year.
The recommendations were meant to be a negotiating point between the position of the BMA and that of the government. However they have some clear flaws and have been used by the Secretary of State to position himself as the patient champion against nasty workshy consultants. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth.
The recommendations are particularly damaging for trainee doctors, effectively removing them from the protection of the European working time directive, which prevents junior doctors working 100 plus hours a week, as used to be the case. The “regular working day” would become 7am to 10pm, Monday to Saturday. The amount of holiday is also to be reduced.
A group of young doctors walking zombie like around the hospital are not going to be in a position to make good clinical judgements; patient care will suffer.
Non-emergency surgery doesn’t always take place over the weekend for the very good reason that if tired doctors perform surgery they make more mistakes!
Jeremy Hunt seems determined not just to go to war with doctors but with all the statistics that prove he wrong as well.
There is an underlying hypocrisy to the whole saga. At the same time that the Secretary of State for Health is claiming to fight the good fight against doctors, he is demanding that £20 billion of savings are made, pilots of seven day GP services are ending because they are too expensive, don’t reduce demand on A&E and patients don’t turn up for appointments on Sundays!
There will be no more staff, no more resources and no more money under a Tory government.
Everyone who works in the NHS wants good quality, effective care, especially at weekends. This is why Jeremy Hunt’s claim has caused so much anger.
The focus of his demands — that more consultants be available — shows the elitism at the heart of the conservative project. No mention of the porters, cleaners, ward clerks, healthcare assistants, nurses, physios, occupational therapists, laboratory staff, radiographers, catering staff and everyone else that make a hospital run smoothly.
Underneath it all is a desire to undermine NHS services. The NHS exists despite our current neo-liberal capitalist economy. For over 60 years it has been a shining example of how solidarity and equality can make our lives healthier.
The Health and Social Care Act (2012) created a legislative framework for dismantling the NHS. Now attacks are focused on workers pay and conditions; it’s all about making the service more attractive to private providers. The next stage will be the reduction of free at the point of use care, and the introduction of co-payments and an insurance model.
In a little noticed move on the 9 July the Under Secretary for NHS Productivity seemed to announce to the House of Lords an independent inquiry into the funding model of our NHS. If the government has its way it will strip our NHS bare and then throw the scraps to its friends in the private sector, safe in the knowledge that those who can afford to pay will be okay.
A Twitter campaign has shown the strength of feeling within the health service, but it is not nearly enough on its own.
Concerted, coordinated action from the trade union movement is what is needed. And the people tweeting #iminworkjeremy are that movement.