Doctors’ Contract Row 2015: a summary for the general public, and why it may be the end of our free NHS
By Dr. L Bradbeer
Right now the papers and the internet are awash with NHS-related politics, with many emotive articles by healthcare professionals coming from places of anger, desperation or panic; other pieces are cynical or designed to wound. My previous contribution can be found here. In light of recent events I was asked to write a more straight-forward piece aimed at non-medical readers, to step back and outline the main issues at stake in Autumn 2015, and to ask: is there anything that non-medical folk can do to help?
First, this is a good, short video summarising the issues at hand. It’s under 10 minutes and will update you completely on The NHS Situation and the upcoming protest march in London on Saturday 17th October; it’s is the one to watch if you feel a bit vague about it all, or aren’t sure if it’s important or not, or don’t think it matters to you.
Note: If you use the NHS in its present form, or if you approve of it being free, this matters.
Bear in mind that “junior” is a bit of a misnomer. “Junior doctors” include every hospital doctor who is not a Consultant, as well as many more trainee GPs. “Junior” doctors are the ones interacting with the majority of patients most of the time: if you’ve been seen in A&E, been admitted to hospital, had a general anaesthetic and/or an operation such as an appendectomy or C-section, it was most likely by one of them. It cannot be overemphasized that the vast majority of doctors (medical and surgical) on the frontline of hospital healthcare are technically “junior”, and that these changes affect all of them.
The gist: doctors are at breaking point already. This government is trying to force through a new harsher contract that will drive a lot of doctors out of the NHS and burn out the remainder even faster. Simultaneously many other equally damaging “cost-saving initiatives” are underway across the entire health service.
The overall government plan seems to be:
- Bring the NHS to its knees – to the point that it will fail patients on a regular basis due to sheer lack of resources
- Review and find the only viable solution is to introduce a fee-paying / insurance-based Medical Service
- Privatise the NHS
Politically, this is a one-way street – there is no going back. Once deconstructed, the money will never be found to put the NHS back together; it’s not too big to fail, but it is too big to resuscitate.
The push towards privatisation may be insidious at the beginning – suggestions already proposed include £10 for a GP appointment, £10 to attend A&E, “refundable if you get admitted to hospital” – and may not seem like a big deal to most people who are from comfortable backgrounds. But staff who work on the frontline know that fees of this nature will prevent some of the most medically vulnerable (particularly a certain archetype of older person who already “doesn’t want to be a bother” at the best of times) from seeking care.
Asking patients to clinically assess the seriousness of their own medical problem and weigh that directly against the financial cost of a consultation – this is a dangerous path to go down, very likely leading to delayed treatments, missed diagnoses, exacerbation of preventable illness, and a general decline in public health.
And that would just be for starters. Because we already know what the end-point of insurance-based medicine looks like: it’s America. Don’t tell me you’ve ever seen a news report or documentary about the U.S. healthcare system and thought it seems fairer or more humane than ours. It’s an absolute joke – an incredibly cruel one.
Even if you’re someone who can always afford a “small” fee for such a consultation, or someone already protected by medical insurance, the question you have to ask yourself is: do you want to live in a country where a cancer diagnosis can bankrupt an entire family? Where every hospital visit is accompanied by an invoice? Where disadvantaged people resort to buying black market meds off the internet because they can’t afford to fill their legal prescription?
Will this look hopelessly out of date in 5 years time?
TAKE HOME MESSAGES:
- If Junior doctors strike, it will be about a lot more than pay
- The current war on doctors and their image is blatantly part of a larger plan to dismantle and then privatise the NHS – remember, once we lose it, we never get it back
- The most helpful things I think non-medics can do:
- raise awareness of the issues via sharing/tweeting this piece or the above video, especially in non-medical circles (using hashtags: #saveourNHS #juniorcontract #notfairnotsafe)
- write to your MP / the BBC / other media outlets to express your serious concerns about the future of the NHS given recent developments
- support us: by making us feel heard; by marching with us; by sticking up for us in the pub when certain tabloid readers start spouting “facts” about how lazy and overpaid we are; by supporting our strike action if – as a last resort – it comes to that.
A note on use of social media: it may feel like slacktivism but it honestly really helps our morale to see this stuff getting circulated amongst wider circles than our own healthcare-obsessed increasingly depressed ones!
Thanks for reading. Now if you haven’t already – watch the video! It has stirring music and everything.