Our doctors are striking for patients, not money

My better half is a junior doctor. She works insanely long hours and cares completely for her patients. When you can see how much it costs somebody as conscientious as she is to walk out on strike, it’s all the more frustrating that press coverage so spotty, confusing and often insulting.

The underlying issue is so simple: There aren’t enough doctors.

Published 2016-04-26. Read 4,942 times. Comments. Tagged: doctors nhs politics

Ignore everything you’ve been told. The situation in the NHS is simple to explain:

  • Doctors are a finite resource. We have 55,000 doctors in training in the NHS in England.
  • These 55,000 only barely cover existing shifts for full service regular 9-5ish Monday to Friday and emergency care 24/7. In many smaller hospitals there are already dangerous rota gaps from understaffing, but they just scrape by.

The contract being imposed in August —the one doctors are striking against— was designed to make it affordable and legally possible for hospitals to spread these 55,000 doctors from 5 days full service, to 7 days full service.

You can’t safely do 7 days work with 5 days people.

The Government’s maths to make this “work”: you take some doctors from midweek and move them to the weekend. That’s what this contract allows, one way or the other. Fewer doctors in the week, and dangerously long shifts to cover the existing workload with fewer concurrent staff.

And that isn’t safe. The level of cover in some places is already dangerous. You can’t spread doctors any thinner and expect anything but a diminished service. The NHS needs more doctors, not the same number spread over more days. And that’s the only thing you need to consider when you’re wondering why doctors are striking and whose fault that is.


That’s not to say that there aren’t also other issues here. There are and they are significant but all of that can be boiled into the same argument. The NHS is already haemorrhaging doctors to countries with better working conditions and the cost to become a doctor here is huge. While we need the number of 55,000 junior doctors to grow substantially, everything about this contract and the treatment of existing doctors up to now will mean it likely shrinks away.

I don’t want to conflate the issue. Your doctors aren’t striking over a 30% pay cut or additional weekends they’ll be pulled in for, they’re striking because they’re being told that starting August they will be doing unsafe amount of work with a unsafe number of doctors. The rest is just distracting gravy.

This contract is dangerous to patients, present and future. It must be resisted.

About Oli: I’m a Django and Python programmer, occasional designer, Ubuntu member, Ask Ubuntu moderator and technical blogger. I occasionally like to rant about subjects I should probably learn more about but I usually mean well.

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