The second point Dr Gafson highlighted was the level of disillusionment in the medical profession with the Government’s plans. She said:
“Whilst the sense of solidarity and unity amongst junior doctors” on the march
“was tangible to all, there was a much sadder force underpinning our mood...People who have invested years of passion into their work are feeling demoralised. This unique day that brought so many doctors together in one place really served to illustrate how dangerously low levels of morale amongst junior doctors have sunk.”
Dr Gafson voiced her strongest criticism for the way in which these contracts had not been negotiated with doctors and how the proposals threatened the safeguards on working hours. Significantly, she voted for the Conservatives at the last election:
“I trusted them with the NHS and I feel let down. I actually feel embarrassed”.
Dr Gafson is not the only one. Another local doctor who does not wish to be named contacted me to express her grave concerns at how the changes could impact on the NHS as a whole. She said that in a meeting last week a significant number of her colleagues were discussing alternative career plans and many were considering a move abroad to practise in another country. She said:
“If these reforms go through then the frontline specialties such as Accident and Emergency, General Practice and acute medicine will be hardest hit, and these areas are already undersubscribed”.
She went on to say:
“I am gravely concerned that if these changes go through they will signify the start of the dismantlement of the NHS.”
The Secretary of State should heed those words. They are an indictment of how the entire situation has been handled. If what is being offered is a “good and fair deal”, as he has described it previously, how does he account for the upset and concern the offer has caused? Is he willing to publish in full the financial models being used to calculate the proposed changes to contracts so that doctors can know exactly what they can expect to be paid? If he is not willing to do that, junior doctors working evenings and weekends have every right to be concerned that they face a possible pay cut.
Finally, is he willing to accept that removing the safeguards that penalise hospitals that force junior doctors to work in excess of their contract hours has the potential to overburden doctors and compromise patient safety?
I therefore urge the Secretary of State to stop his continued and unwarranted attacks on the BMA and to get back to the negotiating table and offer a deal that is fair to doctors and safe for patients in the context of talks without preconditions.