I have tried very hard to avoid getting political on my blog but over the weekend, I caught a snippet of news that changed my mind on this point.
Today, for the first time in the history of the National Health Service, junior doctors will strike without providing any emergency cover. In previous episodes of industrial action, A&E services have been provided, but from now on, they will not. This is absolutely unheard of and is not a matter that the Government can ignore, I’m afraid. Here’s why.
When transport workers strike, it’s a nuisance but alternative arrangements are made and people work around it. When post office workers strike, it’s a nuisance, but alternative arrangements are made and people work around it. When civil servants strike, I doubt very much many people actually notice, because life seems to go on as normal for most people (sorry about that, but it’s true).
However, junior doctors have a very specific skill set and when they strike, people notice. With the best will in the world, a nurse or paramedic simply cannot cover a junior doctor – they have not had the same training and do not have the same skills. I think even they would admit that, and I hope I am not doing them a disservice by saying so. If emergency care is not provided, there is a very high probability that people could die.
So great is this probability that a cross-party group of MPs, together with the Royal College of Surgeons, made proposals to be put to both sides in an attempt to at least avert the possibility of losing emergency medical cover. The Department of Health dismissed these proposals as “ill-informed” and “publicity seeking”. Perhaps they were, but at least someone seems to care enough to ensure that people do not die unnecessarily because either side refuses to get round a table and talk.
I do not want to come down on one side or the other in this argument – I am not a doctor, nor am I a government minister. However, I do feel very strongly that putting people’s lives at risk for political point scoring is a move too far. If the government and junior doctors do not wish to discuss the imposition of contracts, so be it. At least each side should be brave enough to consider proposals by others without dismissing them out of hand before they’ve been explored.
I just hope nobody dies over the next 48 hours. I really wouldn’t want that on my conscience.