Ignore the shameless fearmongering about putting patients’ lives at risk. Cut through the fog of assertion, counter assertion and ‘balanced reporting’. It’s simple. The junior doctors should be supported in their contract dispute with their employers, the British government. And their right to down stethoscopes should also be supported.
Not because they are doctors. Not because they spend large parts of their working lives doing something that is invaluable. And certainly not because they (all 55,000 of them), alongside nurses, are the beating heads and hearts of that most over-venerated and fetishised of institutions, the NHS. Some workers are not more worthy of support than others. No, the junior doctors should be supported because they are standing up for themselves. They are demanding a better life, with better pay, and better working conditions. They are refusing simply to accept what is given to them, with a bent knee and a grateful smile. And in doing this, in rejecting the passivity of our times and fighting for a better life for themselves, their families and their colleagues, they are doing something in which we ought to be able to recognise our own aspirations. Good on them.
Admittedly, thanks to the nature of the reporting, and the shallow focus on the bad manners of the perma-daft Conservative health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, it’s not been the easiest dispute to understand. The government says the new contract will raise the basic rate of junior doctors’ pay by 10 per cent — which it will. But while basic pay will rise, the extra pay that junior doctors receive for working ‘unsociable’ hours — between 7pm and 7am on weekdays and the entirety of the weekend — is to be reduced thanks to a clever trick: the new contract redefines what is an unsociable working hour.
So extra pay would now only come into effect from 10pm until 7am during the week and only on Sundays at the weekend. This means, as the British Medical Association (BMA), doctors’ de facto trade union, puts it, that while those junior doctors who don’t work much overtime will enjoy a pay rise, those who do a lot of out-of-hours work will see their pay fall. And given that people tend not to confine illness or accident to the normal working day, that’s most junior doctors.
So, in their resistance to their employers’ attempts to reduce state expenditure, which will result in a life just that little bit more miserable, the junior doctors should be supported. What’s more, their actions run very much against the contemporary political grain. In these economically stagnant, recessive times, with employers all too willing to lay employees off, or as the euphemism goes, ‘cut costs’, those willing to resist, those refusing to accept their pay and conditions as fate, are few and far between. Evidence of this political passivity abounds.