Who is bullying whom?

Bullying – Definition = to use superior strength or influence to intimidate someone, typically to force them to do something.

It started in July with name calling. For most, the health secretary’s comment that the doctors needed more vocation and professionalism was a slap in the face that came out of the blue. It was quickly followed by the claim (from a paper) that more people died at weekends and that this was due to a lack of doctors at weekends, particularly consultants who could ‘opt out’ of weekend work.

Like all good children, the ‘junior doctors’ did their homework. A freedom of information request was answered by 86 out of 155 trusts and revealed that 11 out of the 20 644 consultants in those trusts had ‘opted out’ of non emergency work at weekends. The authors of the paper he was quoting asked him to stop misrepresenting their work, but he continued. The doctors patiently tried to explain the statistics to him,  but he continued. Why wouldn’t he listen?

The junior doctors responded in a good natured, Enid-Blyton ‘jolly hockey sticks’ type way. They tweeted photos of themselves in work at weekends with the #iminworkjeremy.  They patiently explained that in order to run a 7 day NHS they would need the back up of the rest of the hospital staff and social services. That a doctor alone is like a kitchen without a sink.

Everyone tried to understand how he was planning to extend a system from 5 days to 7 days without doctors working more hours. Would we get more doctors? Apparently not as the whole exercise would be ‘cost neutral’. But moving doctors from weekdays to weekends would put more pressure on an already overstretched system. The NHS was already at breaking point with most doctors regularly working beyond their hours on a daily basis, and was already scraping the barrel to provide the existing level of care. The doctors said working more hours would compromise patient safety. Tired doctors make mistakes.

The health secretary persisted. Either they accepted the new contract or he would impose it. The junior doctors applied for GMC certificates of good standing en mass. Surely he would listen them, his workforce, and see that they were serious? He didn’t.

Angry, they organised a protest march. 20,000 marched and yet there was little press coverage. Was the health secretary in charge of everything? Instead more from the health secretary explaining how the doctors had been ‘misled’ by the BMA. Why was no one listening? Did anyone care?

Then the pinching started. He told people the doctors were greedy and were infact getting a pay rise. The doctors did more homework. Whilst the odd doctor would end up better off, the majority would end up much worse off. This would be delayed by the addition of ‘pay protection’ to the oldest junior doctors salaries, a bribe (£14,000 in some cases) to stay quiet and sell their younger colleagues out. In comparison to other professionals they realised just how little their salaries were. ‘The tube drivers get more!’ the doctors complained. Still no-one was listening.

It was then that the penny finally dropped. The only outcome of all of the above would be to demoralise the work force and cause them to leave, making the NHS non-viable. The NHS free at point of care would have to be dismantled. This was not what they had trained for. No doctor wanted to treat someone based on what they could afford.

‘It’s not about the money’ sang one junior doctor on youtube. IT’S ABOUT PATIENT SAFETY. Tired doctors make mistakes. And making doctors work any more hours was dangerous. In November with heavy hearts the doctors voted to strike. They did and finally it looked like he had begun to listen. Contract negotiations resumed with an adjudicator.

A number 1 music chart campaign boosted public support, surely he would listen then? Instead the hair pulling. The medics got paid ‘danger money’ (a term he made up), were ‘living the high life’ and women doctors and maternity leave were to blame for the lack of doctors. The medics stayed good-humoured with their replies  #dangermoney #Moetmedics #likealadydoc. Finally the tide was turning, and the press was reporting. But really this was beginning to really hurt.

With increasing press coverage even the public were behind them. ‘Give the doctors what they want’ said one comedian. After all who wants a grumpy doctor treating them or a uninterested surgeon operating on them?

Negotiations continued but then in February came a direct punch to the face. The contract would be imposed anyway. People were stunned.In 2016 and the developed world a contract was going to be IMPOSED??

Last Thursday Mr Hunt said he would not be bullied by the junior doctors. Ironic most thought, as given all of the above, surely he was the bully?

Well, I’m a junior doctor. And I DON’T feel bullied by Mr Hunt. Because he no longer has superior influence and he certainly doesn’t have superior strength. The medics are an army that have trained for years without sleep or food. In the words of Dr Norris (founder of GP survival)

“If you’re going to slap down the profession you’re in charge of, expect a slap back. And when it’s a profession as dedicated and well informed as medicine, expect a pretty sturdy slap”

So Mr Hunt, please come back to the negotiating table and LISTEN. We need more doctors, nurses and funding for the NHS. Let’s stop talking about bullying – this isn’t the playground anymore, and we’re not children.

It’s real life and death, so let’s discuss it like grown-ups.

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