This morning marks the start of the two day strike by junior doctors. It represents a terrible day in the history of our National Health Service. The government’s botched negotiations and dictatorial approach has brought them to this point; it has not been entered into lightly. I support the junior doctors and will continue to do so because their fight is our fight.
During the entire 68-year history of the NHS, there has never been a crisis like this. There hasn’t been a Health Secretary like this. On Monday morning, a junior doctor resigned live on national television in protest. The fact that a young, dedicated professional feels as if he has no option but to resign from a career he will have worked hard for from a young age is shameful. It reflects poorly on Jeremy Hunt and upon the Government. Heidi Alexander, a colleague and the Shadow Health Secretary worked to bring a genuinely cross party proposal, with support from the British Medical Association, to the table. As she says, the matter is beyond politics; the NHS is a national institution and it is being fundamentally mismanaged. That Jeremy Hunt has dismissed the offer out of hand as ‘opportunism’ is disgraceful: he is the only person playing politics with this crisis.
What had the government to lose from piloting the contract? It would have ensured a working solution that avoided the many concerns of damaging effects on patient safety, of doctors moving abroad and on gender diversity in the profession. The government wanted this fight, their intransigence and their stubbornness alone has caused this.
The government has a duty to this generation and future generations to ensure that the NHS remains among the greatest healthcare systems in the world. By forcing a top down reorganisation of the NHS, Mr Hunt has overseen an unparalleled, unprecedented assault on staff morale.
The suggestion that the government has deliberately created this crisis in order to systemically undermine public confidence in the National Health Service and drive patients into the hand of private providers clearly has merit. From teachers to junior doctors to nurses, the government has a track record of denigrating the vital contributions of dedicated, honest professionals working in our public services.
To those junior doctors on picket lines, to their friends and colleagues who feel under attack by a government determined to bring about this conflict, we offer our support. To the public we can simply say that Labour has tried to act as an honest broker, that the doctors have tried to negotiate and that it is the actions of Mr Hunt that have led to this strike.
I’m proud to be a member of the party that founded the NHS. Aneurin Bevan said that it will last ‘as long as there are folk left with the faith to fight for it’. In Jeremy Corbyn, in Heidi Alexander and in the Labour movement, the NHS has people fighting for it. We’ll support the junior doctors and we will fight tooth and nail to ensure a future for the NHS.