One of today’s words of wisdom, which has come to my attention, seems pretty pertinent to this post: “A smart person knows what to say. A wise person knows when to say it”. The subject I am again returning to is the NHS and specifically the Junior doctors strikes which according to reports will shortly be resuming. Having blogged about it at the start of the year, it was tempting to think the matter had been resolved, or at least a compromise had been reached, but all the indications now are that this is not the case.
The knowing of what to say and when to say it is a question that arises on several fronts. Firstly, I am close to a few who work in the NHS and I do not wish to put any of my friends in an awkward position. Secondly, I don’t know all the facts and what I have to go on is mainly anecdotal, although there is a good deal of this. Thirdly, there is the bigger picture to consider: the future of the NHS, which is a hot issue and one that rightly raises concerns us all. Fourthly, there is the propaganda war that has once again flared up, here specifically between the junior doctors and their supporters and the government and their supporters. But on the other hand, why stop the habit of a lifetime, by not speaking out on something important?
In coming to an understanding of many issues, the important thing to do first is try to examine the pertinent facts, but with a degree of humility and circumvention realizing we rarely take in all the important perspectives. I prepared for writing by first looking at that supposed bastion of balanced reporting, the BBC. I felt its article: “Junior doctors’ row: The basics of the dispute” yesterday was fair, although one of my Facebook friends who has spent a lot of time looking at the issues takes the view that a good deal of BBC and other media coverage is warped and biased, coming down on the side of a duplicitous government, as opposed to that of the doctors, who have a just case and one that merits serious examination.
This is relevant because whoever wins the hearts and minds of the public will likely get a lot of their own way when it comes to eventually resolving the dispute, as indeed it must be if the important service NHS doctors provide the public is to continue. It was interesting to listen to the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, being interviewed on yesterday’s Radio 4, Today Program (2 hours 10 mins in), by John Humphries. While Humphries seemed fair and relevant, I sensed he did let Hunt off the hook somewhat compared with some of his other victims. Hunt came across as plausible in defending the government position. Where the truth lies is another matter and I strongly suspect there is another side and, moreover, points made by that other side are valid. It seemed to me incredible that when she earlier announced her cabinet, Teresa May kept Hunt on as Health Secretary, as it seemed at the time he had lost the respect and trust of the doctors, without which it is difficult to see meaningful talks taking place for an outcome to be agreed, although given May’s support of Hunt, I suspect the issue goes deeper.
In the interview, Hunt made a lot of the fact that offering a weekend service for the NHS was a government manifesto commitment that needed honouring (which struck me as rather ironic given how many other such commitments have not been implemented in the past, irrespective of party). However, given the strains on the NHS, evidenced by pressure on staff being felt in all departments that I have come to see and have not seen to the same extent before, likely as a result of a reduction in resources, it seems pernicious that the government should want to persist with this while at the same time they appear to be selling off and cutting down the NHS by stealth. It seems to me a more realistic goal is to ensure emergencies are dealt with and there is a basic level of cover, as is appropriate.
I believe, along with teachers, doctors and nurses are undervalued by our society. Most, from my experience, work over and above what is strictly required of them, and it takes its toll given here they are dealing with real life situations. For those doctors who go into the profession for the right reasons, which I believe to be the majority, caring for sick and dying patients is their priority, and because that is the case they will work themselves into the ground in the interests of their patients. My gut feel is rather than improve their conditions, the new contracts will make matters worse, not just for the doctors but for the service as a whole. I hope this dispute will not be about the two sides trading insults and scoring points and the public will not be taken in by anyone’s propaganda but rather examine the facts and call for a just outcome. I hope too the government NHS agenda will be made clear and they will be brought to account. Right now, my sympathies are with the junior doctors and the service they provide. I hope there will be a just outcome and, while there is more sifting through of the facts to be done, that I speak as a wise person.