Junior doctors and infant ministers…

HERE’S the most telling quote to date about the proposed strike by junior doctors. The speaker, one of those unnamed sources national newspapers find so useful, is referring to the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt…

“Number ten sees this as a miners’ moment and wants him to look tough.”

The anonymous source in The Guardian goes on to say that Downing Street and the Treasury are “backing Jeremy on this and pressurising him to be deeply muscular” – leaving the medical profession in despair as they “want him to sort it out before it ends up with a strike that nobody wants”.

In my experience of strikes, few people truly want them but sometimes they happen anyway because once that boulder starts rolling it is hard to stop. Intransigence and pride have something to do with it too: staff who feel they are not being listened to face up to bosses who don’t wish to be “pushed around” – and who often talk disdainfully of their own staff.

In this role, Jeremy Hunt appears to have cast himself as the very worst sort of boss when it comes to dealing with junior doctors. Highhanded and dismissive, he seems happy to misrepresent what is happening and to confuse the public while going out of his way to annoy junior doctors. And isn’t that label a bit of a misnomer? It seems that a ‘junior doctor’ can be anyone from a recent graduate to a doctor with 20 years of experience. This allows Hunt to give the impression that he is dealing with bolshie young doctors who should knuckle down and get on with their lives. In fact those who oppose him are dedicated to the public – and to the much-battered NHS reeling from a lack of proper investment.

You could see this coming when Hunt mishandled what he said was an 11 per cent pay rise for junior doctors. Many of the medics insisted this wasn’t a pay rise at all – and pointed out that Hunt also wanted to extend the so-called social hours a doctor could work.

The other main plank in Hunt’s attack has been to bang on about a seven-day NHS – something which already exists. So what David Cameron and his health secretary have done here – possibly at the evil urgings of Chancellor George Osborne – is to create a conflict by summoning unnecessary ghosts, implying that the doctors are against something which already happens anyway. A false phantom being a useful friend to have in a dispute, something to drag out and use to scare the punters.

But a ‘miners’ moment’? Oh come off it. This suggests two things to me. One: at heart Tory governments enjoy a good confrontation with what they see as vested interests. Two: miners are those almost extinct, black-faced toilers under the earth – and doctors are those many-hued toilers on the wards who dedicate the long hours of their working lives to the NHS, to saving lives and to treating people.

Maybe the doctors’ leaders could budge a little more, and certainly arbitration might help – something that Jeremy Hunt refuses to consider, preferring to bully and blunder his way into an unnecessary strike.

And if the far from deeply muscular looking Hunt or any other member of the government can’t tell the difference between a miner and a doctor, then they should watch out when they go to the doctors to have their prostate checked. If they end up seeing a miner rather than a doctor, it’ll be more than a finger going up there.


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