Doctors’ leaders and the BMA are likely to come out of the ‘deal’ struck with Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt looking like rogue elephants who conceived a gerbil. Although slightly improving the rates for unsocial hours, their pay increase has been cut by 15%.
Hunt – who triumphantly referred to the agreement as “cost neutral” – is probably feeling pleased with himself (it is after all his default emotion) but several facets of his behaviour during the dispute cast doubts over his sincerity:
- The Health Secretary’s assertions about a “bubble” in hospital deaths at the weekend proved to be pure invention.
- If through this short engagement he has achieved cost neutrality for the NHS, why couldn’t he have done so months ago?
- His intransigence during the dispute has not been cost-neutral for the NHS: it will now have to pay out more in overtime to clear the backlog. This is something the Health Service can ill afford, and Mr Hunt knows this perfectly well.
Yesterday, The latest Kings Fund study recorded two in three senior hospital managers saying care for patients has worsened in the last year alone, while fully 90% expect to end the year in the red. Waiting lists are the worst they have been since late 2007, and the NHS faces what TKF described as a “Herculean” task to make ends meet without harming patient care.
The think tank called the findings “the most worrying” since it began tracking quality of care.
Many junior doctors are today furious at what they call “a sellout” and “a joke”, and viewing things as a neutral, it’s hard to deny the logic of their view. In particular, the Government’s attempt to get a seven-day NHS ‘on the cheap’ seems to have succeeded. This was summed up admirably by junior doctor Will Rook, who called the new deal “worse than its predecessor”.
“It hasn’t addressed a lot of the concerns I had in the first place around trying to spread a five-day service over seven days without having extra people to do the job. It also appears to further devalue our work-life balance. A 10% supplement for working one in two weekends a month is a joke. The disruption it causes is immense” said Dr Rook.
I understand, however, that the general feeling is the deal will be accepted. So Mill-owner Hunt of Hotcourses gets what he wants: a lot more work for very little money, and the finances of the NHS remaining in a parlous state, unchecked. In the end, exhausted strikers who care about the service are likely to give in. Jeremy Hunt doesn’t GAF about the Health Service, so he doesn’t have their problem.
One wonders at what point the Hunt narrative will take on the concerned look of a genuine man shocked by how the NHS is falling apart….and in need of emergency help from private insurers who can offer patients ‘top up’ mutuals – thus bringing nearly 70 years of free healthcare in Britain to an end.
Will he take the same line the DWP/Treasury did with the WASPIs, risibly suggesting that they should’ve pored over Green Papers over twenty years ago….instead of just “breezing through life”?
I can almost hear the debate:
Mr Speaker: The member for Newham North East Mr Patel
Patel: Is the Secretary of State aware that 97% of British citizens cannot afford the Health topups on offer from the Delaware Wellbeing Trust, and are thus dying in their thousands?
Jeremy Hunt: With all due respect to the honourable gentleman opposite, if these foolish people couldn’t see NHS privatisation coming the minute I got this job, then they must have been blind.
Speaker: Mr Patel…
Patel: But the Prime Minister had said two years before that how much he valued the NHS…
Hunt: You cannot expect the Prime Minister to have foreseen the global economic headwinds that arrived in 2014, nor could he have imagined that a group of greedy junior doctors would bring the NHS to its knees. I should also point out to the honourable gentleman that, by contrast, I co-authored a pamphlet in 2008 saying we needed to demolish the NHS brick by brick. As this is what I have done, the Party opposite can hardly complain.