Yesterday's strike action was incredibly disruptive for patients and hospitals, and I take issue with the casting of the BMA's negotiating team as the reasonable force in negotiations, and the Government's proposed new contract as a major assault on doctors' pay and conditions.
I am glad that the BMA recognises the shortcomings of the existing contract. It is unsafe, and often leads doctors to work up to 91 hour weeks, on an unsustainable banding system that is not adaptable to the changing needs of a modern health system.
As the Chair of the All Party Group on Patient Safety, my ultimate concern is always for the patients who will be affected by action such as this. I and this Government were elected on a manifesto that promised a seven-day NHS, providing services no matter if you went to hospital on a Wednesday or a Saturday. This would mark a step-change in patient safety across the NHS and would be a major step forward in improving a service that has fallen behind our European neighbours.
This Government has a mandate from the electorate to deliver these services. Yet, the British Medical Association has taken it upon itself to fight the Government and not stand up for the best interests of its members. In the words of one senior BMA negotiator, they are more interested in 'bringing down the Tories' than ensuring the contract that is eventually agreed upon is in the best interest of patients and doctors.
Let's take a moment to look at the facts of what is on offer from the Government. An 11% increase in basic pay. Tougher restrictions on over-working reducing the average maximum working week to 48 hours. No savings to the Government. Greater flexibility in pay. These are all reasonable, common sense reforms that will allow the health service to change and adapt to provide a better, safer service for patients.
A tiny minority, about 1% of junior doctors, will see their pay decrease. But these are the doctors who were previously working dangerously long hours at unsociable times; these reforms will see them on safer working patterns. Most others will see a small increase, something not unreasonable when public sector finances are under pressure.
Yes, there will be changes to what is regarded as unsociable hours. The world, however, is changing. As people in many other professions work longer and smarter, with many more working on weekends, it is not unreasonable to ask that doctors extend their standard working days to cover Saturdays. Doctors provide a public service; they must adapt to the changing needs of the public to provide this service.
Already yesterday thousands of operations were cancelled. The prospect of a further strike, with a removal of emergency care, is almost unthinkable and would put the safety of patients at incredible risk. It would be an entirely unreasonable and excessive response from a negotiating team that has walked away from the table.
The leadership of the BMA have become so consumed by their political crusade, backed up by Jeremy Corbyn's old-left Labour Party, that they have neglected their duty to patients. They have to come back to the table and sit down with the Government and not put up stubborn, dogmatic walls in the way of reform that will improve conditions for patients and doctors alike.