"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about."
There are secret battles going on all over the country right now: battles to keep our teachers, fire fighters and police officers, to protect the rights of disabled people, and save children from poverty. The NHS is quietly becoming a war zone all by itself; there are battles to stop stripping student nurses of their bursaries, to stop A&E and maternity closures, to keep community pharmacies open, to challenge consultant contracts, to keep GP practices open, and - most publicly - to halt the imposition of the junior doctors contract.
These battles are secret not by our choosing. I have colleagues who have done nothing but work themselves to the bone for the last eight months to try to get the word to you. I hope you were listening. Many mainstream media outlets were not. The struggle against the government’s spin machine has been titanic. I still think we aren’t even halfway there.
This isn’t about weekend pay or hours, it’s a little about unsafe staffing and a lot about dangerous underfunding of the NHS. What it’s mostly about is challenging a government set on dismantling the publicly funded, free at the point of use National Health Service.
Since 2010, on every recordable measure the NHS is declining: waiting times, staff retention and recruitment, funding ‘deficits’. If you want to get really simple: death rates are up. Let me reiterate that - since 2010/12, after fifty years of steadily falling, death rates in the UK have started to rise again. More people are dying. This is the result of a financial crash and a Tory government “not letting a good crisis go to waste” - pushing an ideology of public sector sell off and shrinking of government that is the core of conservatism.
You might think they’ve gone too far- I do. So does Prof Don Berwick, the Nuffield Trust, the Financial Times and the Kings Fund to name a few. The deficit is £97 billion, the national debt is £1.6 trillion– there is no ‘balancing of the books’. ‘Austerity’ was a great lie. This is a government of PR, not policy.
Now circle around to the junior doctors’ contract dispute. The contract is a means to provide lucrative cheap elective weekend work (hip ops and the like) at the cost of safety to patients during the week. There are no more doctors to provide these ‘7 day’ services – just the same number, spread thinner. The National Audit Office and Cass Business school said these changes ‘posed a genuine risk’ and may ‘breach employer duty of care’.
Why would David Cameron do this then? Because for twenty or thirty years successive governments have tried to privatise health in the UK: the head of the NHS is an ex-US healthcare senior executive, Virgin own many NHS services already in the UK, the former Health secretary now works for a private health consultancy, £1.5 billion pounds of private contracts linked to companies of sitting MPs.
Still don’t believe me? Here is the plan from 1988 Britain’s Biggest Enterprise by Oliver Letwin, currently Cameron’s main strategist. Here is the plan revisited in 2005 - Direct Democracy, co-written by current health secretary Jeremy Hunt.
The plan is to drive down terms and condition, create an unworkable and unsafe NHS, and then in a crisis - roll in private companies. Remember - ‘never let a good crisis go to waste’. While people, other normal human beings will suffer.
That is what this fight is about. The battle for the NHS has raged for thirty years, and you mostly had no idea about it.
I have colleagues who spend all their own time organising, campaigning, giving interviews, challenging the government to show us we are wrong; and thus far all we are met with is lies and spin. Colleagues who have taught themselves law, economics, public relations, journalism, song-writing. These men and women are all working doctors, nurses, physios and other health professionals - saving your life as a day job, trying to save your health service from home.
We are doctors who want to do our jobs; to protect the health of our patients. We are fighting because banging our heads against the wall just isn’t enough anymore.
We will fight them in the courts. The BMA is launching a legal challenge to the contract. It will force the government to legally justify their decision. We know they are not acting in the best interests of patients.
We will fight them on the streets. Join us on the picket line outside main hospitals this week on Wednesday March 9th and Thursday March 10th (find your nearest picket line here). Show them you value the service and staff of the NHS. Come and talk to us at Meet the Doctors events.
We will fight them in Parliament. The NHS Reinstatement Bill has its second reading this Friday (11th March). It is offers MPs a chance to start to reverse the privatisation of the NHS and get rid of the ‘market’ bureaucracy that encourages private takeover, at huge public cost. Write to your MP and tell them you support this bill.
The fiercest battle is sometimes one you never heard of. Don’t let this one be – join us in our fight to save our NHS. To paraphrase a superb junior doctor on social media; “in two decades time you can tell your kids the reason there’s still an NHS is because twenty years ago you stood up for it”.
OurNHS has exposed sneaky moves towards charging for vital health services, withdrawing services, hospital sell-offs and the shocking failures of privatisation. We need your help. Our funders can no longer support us - so we’re asking readers to step in and save OurNHS.
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