A short walk for health, a demonstration in Leamington to support the junior doctors and to defend the NHS, on May Day. We assembled at Top Park and walked down to the Pump Room Gardens.
The turnout was impressive.
For a town of 60,000 this was very good indeed.
Two junior doctors spoke at the rally explaining why the government's proposed (and to be enforced, if Jeremy Hunt has his way) new contract will be disastrous for the NHS. They explained that a 7-day, 24-hour NHS for emergencies already exists. Introducing 7 day elective care can't be done by stretching junior doctors any thinner without more receptionists, admin staff, consultants, radiographers, lab technicians and a host of other staff - to do this requires more funding and the government is not prepared to do that.
The government is not truthful when it says doctors are getting a pay rise of 13.5%. The new contract would redefine anti-social hours thus reducing pay banding for late evenings and weekends. As a result, those specialities with greater burden of anti-social hours, such as A&E, would be adversely affected, leading to a pay cut between 10% and 20%. The proposed contract also discriminates against women as it would discourage them to apply for hospital specialities where the majority of hours will be antisocial. In addition, the loss of incremental pay progression, which rewards doctors annually for increased experience and protects pay, will be abolished. This will hit less than full-time trainees the hardest, the majority of whom are women.
What this contract is asking doctors, who are already stretched to the limit, is to go beyond the bounds of what is safe for patients. This is a money-saving exercise, a means of introducing cuts into the NHS without calling them cuts, and it's just the beginning: nurses, porters, lab technicians and all the rest of the staff who keep the NHS going are going to be the next targets.
Back in 2005, Jeremy Hunt co-authored a book Direct Democracy, calling for the NHS to be dismantled. It included the line: 'our ambition should be to break down the barriers between private and public provision, in effect denationalising the provision of health care in Britain'. The NHS is being deliberately run into the ground to pave the way for privatisation. Breaking the allegiance and loyalty of staff is one of the important strategies for attacking a public sector organisation. This is often achieved through policies that demoralise and alienate. The predictable response of junior doctors threatening to leave the NHS if the contract is imposed is therefore entirely in keeping with the ideological intent of the government. The next stage is to alienate the public from the staff: smearing doctors as apparently caring only about how much they will be paid, and that they endanger the welfare of the public is in line with this. The reality is, of course, the other way round: the primary concern of junior doctors is that the new contract endangers patient safety.
The public are overwhelmingly in favour of a publicly-funded and run NHS. Aneurin Bevan, the founder of the NHS, said that the NHS will survive as long as there are people prepared to fight for it. This is our task now.