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Sunday, 7 February 2016

This is a fight we can’t afford to lose

This Wednesday, 10th February, the junior doctors will once again take industrial action to show the government that they are not prepared for a return to the dark days of unsafe working hours. They know that they are protecting patients, their colleagues and current and future healthcare students. A report out last week from the National Audit Office (NAO) showed the NHS to be understaffed, yet still Jeremy Hunt pursues his fantasy ‘24/7’ NHS. For everyone’s sake, for the health and wellbeing of the country, this is a fight we can’t afford to lose, warns NHAP Leader Dr Clive Peedell:

"There are real fears that Jeremy Hunt’s response to this week’s strike will be to go ahead and impose the unsafe and unfair ’24/7’ contract. The numbers of doctors leaving the service will grow as a consequence, leaving even more specialties at critical staffing levels. No Secretary of State for Health with a real concern for the people and an ability to use evidence based policy could possibly make that choice at this point.

The NHS has always been a deeply political issue but this situation has gone beyond the realm of political conviction into an obstinate demand that defies logic and evidence. Jeremy Hunt has still not defined how his ‘24/7’ NHS will differ from the 24/7 NHS we already provide. On the consultation for the NHS mandate in November last year only 3% of respondents agreed that they supported him. 97% were against, almost the same number of junior doctors who voted for industrial action. How many people does he need to say ‘no’ before he stops saying he has ‘a mandate’?

A week ago Monitor and the NHS Trust Development Authority issued an instruction to reduce staffing, almost three years after ministers ordered hospitals to do the opposite. We need the correct staffing levels to maintain patient safety which was the lesson from the Francis report. But this government will allow patient safety to be jeopardised in the pursuit of further cuts. We already have a high quality service for one of the lowest costs in the developed world. More cuts are not necessary. We need to challenge that basic lie, not accept it. The only consequence will be worsening recruitment and retention and, as the NAO report showed, we already have problems enough with that.

If the NHS is unable to provide services a gap will be created for the expansion of the insurance based private sector, which has always had a relatively small role in the UK. Is this government prepared to sacrifice the health concerns of millions simply to further the profit making opportunities for the private health sector? That’s the price we will pay if the junior doctors lose.

There is only one correct response possible from the government if they actually care about the people of this country: drop the contract, drop the demand for a ‘24/7 NHS’ and start addressing the real staff shortages now. Look at the evidence, not at your manifesto and put the health of the nation first. Jeremy Hunt’s decisions this week may well tell us exactly what his real priorities are"