Junior Doctors: Industrial Action

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:36 pm on 5th September 2016.

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Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Health 6:36 pm, 5th September 2016

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

The shadow Health Secretary needs to recognise that working people, the people her party claims to represent, need a seven-day NHS. The vulnerable people that Labour claims to represent get admitted to hospital at the weekends, and in industrial disputes patients should always matter more than politics. The next time she meets a constituent who has suffered because of not having a seven-day service or because their operation has been cancelled because of a strike, she and her colleagues should hang their heads in shame.

The hon. Lady has used some very strong words. She used words such as “vilifying” and “demonising” in relation to the junior doctor workforce, and that is a very serious thing to say. I challenge her to find a single piece of evidence that has come from me or anyone in the Government, and if she cannot do so, she needs to withdraw those comments and apologise to the House. The fact is that the single most demoralising thing for the NHS workforce is strikes, because they entrench and harden positions, which results in people getting very angry, and it becomes much harder to find consensus.

The hon. Lady also talked about the use of statistics. She does not have to listen to what I say—and I understand, given the sparring that goes on between us, that she might not want to—but we have had eight academic studies in the past five years that describe increased mortality rates for people admitted to hospitals at weekends. Her response to this, in a phrase she used in another context, was that there was “zero empirical evidence” for a weekend effect. I would caution her on this, because taking that approach to hard data is exactly what happened at Mid Staffs, where hard evidence was swept under the carpet year after year because it was politically inconvenient. This Government will not make that mistake.

Finally, the hon. Lady said that my civil servants had apparently advised me that this policy would not work. Not at all. What happens with every Government policy, as you would expect, is that smart civil servants kick the tyres of every aspect of the policy to enable us to understand the risks involved. She did not mention the fact that the same document to which she referred actually says that we are on track to deliver the four clinical seven-day standards to 20% of the country by next April. I think that her constituents will welcome that, even if she does not. These strikes are going to harm patients, damage the NHS and make it harder, not easier, to resolve the challenges facing junior doctors. Labour has chosen political opportunity today, but we will do the right thing for patients.