At various points over the last few months Jeremy Hunt has blamed junior doctors for almost every problem in the NHS, from the crisis in our A&E departments to excess deaths at weekends.
Yet what has been most damaging to morale was when the NHS’s medical director, Sir Bruce Keogh, wrote to the BMA to question whether junior doctors would be on hand to respond to a major terrorism incident, in the wake of the tragic events in Paris.
As the Independent revealed last week, Jeremy Hunt not only signed-off that letter, but his officials put pressure on Sir Bruce Keogh to be as “hard-edged” as possible.
Faced with this onslaught of attacks junior doctors decided enough is enough – and they voted overwhelmingly (98 per cent) in favour of industrial action. This is the first time in forty years that junior doctors have voted to take such significant action.
Speak to any junior doctor and they’ll tell you the last thing they want to be doing is withdrawing their labour, but the truth is they feel like Jeremy Hunt has backed them into a corner and left them with no other way to get their message across.
There remains significant concerns with the proposed new contract that the Government is trying to impose on junior doctors – not least the impact on patient safety as a result of junior doctors being forced to work excessively long hours – but today’s industrial action has become about so much more.
Junior doctors tell me they feel like they are the first line of defence for the future of the NHS. They feel like if they don’t stand up to the government now, then next it’ll be the nurses, the midwives and the healthcare assistants. Whether that assessment is right or wrong, it is a remarkable situation for junior doctors to find themselves in. Trust has been damaged, let us hope it is not irreversible. We know many are looking to a future working in other countries such has been the erosion of confidence, but for now most are staying to protect the NHS.
The priority now must be to find a negotiated solution – and for that to happen Jeremy Hunt needs to acknowledge just how damaging his approach has been and for him to rebuild trust with the very people who we all rely on to keep the NHS going.
Sadly for patients affected by today’s action that will be too little, too late. But the message to those patients should be clear – don’t blame junior doctors, blame Jeremy Hunt.