We take our brightest and our best. We put them through one of the most gruelling, demanding, intellectually challenging training regimes on earth so we know we get the best of the best. Who? Our junior doctors…and now the government sees fit to trample their working conditions underfoot and they threaten to leave.
The junior doctors’ contract row has been bubbling up for quite a while now. It’s not as is the government hasn’t had the chance to back down. But it hasn’t. It wants to cut the payments the junior doctors get for working late and at weekends. To save money.
The doctors, needless to say, object. Who wouldn’t? These people, without meaning any disrespect to anyone else who has to work late, have spent years training. They save lives. That is viewed with high regard in any society on the planet. But not, apparently, by this government. Or at least by nowhere near as much.
This will sound crushingly familiar to anyone who has started to question the “austerity” argument put forward to defend the trampling underfoot of people’s rights at work. “We need to do this to save money’, the argument goes. Ignoring the fact lives will still need to be saved at 9 in the evening just as swiftly as at 3 in the afternoon. The junior doctor gets that deal, more often than not. That should be recognised as worthy of extra reward.
Unfortunately, the neolibeal dogma driving the NHS apart cannot think like that. It sees only the need for a “flexible” workforce, pandering to the all-high god of the neoliberal, and this government, which is the making of money. Profit is all. Rewarding people in public service is barely recognised and is never upheld as valuable.
“Flexible” workers can be found in any call centre. In any large, corporate area where what used to be more honestly termed casual labour is rife. Where unions are not. Where people have little protection, little hope and no means of defending their terms and conditions as they are sequentially scrapped. Ever worked for Amazon, for instance? Where everything bad about a job was bundled together and made the norm. Witness the future – if the like of this government has its way. Or “self-employment” as a euphemism “low paid and easily dismissed”.
Demolishing public services by stripping away the hard-won terms and conditions which the NHS used to be proud of, and which the people working for it were rightly protected by, is part of the process. Along with chronic under-funding, encouraging complaints then advocating “private is better”. It’s all part of the process.
Only junior doctors are different. They are bright. They are young. They have incredibly saleable skills. They can move. Now many of them are threatening to, pitching the NHS deeper yet into crisis.
Pay the doctors what they deserve. Before we all pay the price of this arrogance.