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Junior Doctor Contracts – Johann’s Summary of Events

Over the last few months we have all become more active on social media. I have spent much of the last 7 months getting frustrated at things that are said and written about junior doctors. I know many of you are as frustrated as me. With yesterdays announcement and the reaction today in parliament, it is clearer than ever, the government are going to turn this into a very nasty and personal fight. They have decided to not address the issues and see whether they can break the spirit of our profession. It’s a really sad state of affairs and a really sad strategy on the governments part. However it also shows the absolute desperation in the arguments of the department of health. Some journalists and politicians will use every opportunity to get a reaction out of junior doctors. I understand your anger and frustration. I beg every junior and senior doctor not to rise to it. Whatever happens we need to absolutely maintain our dignity in the face of abuse and provocation. I personally get an incredible amount of trolling via lots of platforms and to my phone, whilst its unpleasant, the absolute desire of anyone doing it is to garner a reaction in order to use it against us. Wider than that, where journalists do write critical pieces, please engage with them only on facts, do not get into arguments with them or turn it personal. They are often doing a job and have an editorial line. Our argument is not with individual journalists, it’s with government. Even politicians on the back benches of government, please engage with them, they may have very polarised views of junior doctors currently, but please don’t take what they say personally. There is a lot of misinformation being circulated and whilst it is incredibly frustrating, we cannot let our professionalism be compromised.

For information, I have summarised a time line of events below so that you can all be informed.

The JDC left contract negotiations in 2014 because the government were not negotiating, they were simply dictating what we would have to agree to in a future contract. That is the only time JDC have ever left negotiations. In July 2015 it was the secretary of state that decided the opening gambit to restarting negotiations was simply to threaten and bully – a theme that we have come to expect from this particular government. In January 2016 the government were clearly trying to elongate a process of negotiations to run down the time on our mandate and force juniors to sign up again to terms that we simply would not find acceptable. It is the government that has been dragged kicking and screaming into negotiations. In November 2015, despite a 98% mandate, we begged the government to enter into talks under the auspices of Acas. In December 2015 again despite that huge mandate, after the government had vetoed a possible agreement three days before the first strike, we carried on working all the way up to the limit and found a form of words that could pull back from that first strike on the night before action. In January when the government appointed Sir David Dalton, we gave him the maximum ability to negotiate by calling off the first 48hour strike and downgrading the full walk out to emergency care only. Throughout this process we have tried to avoid IA as much as possible because we have always put the interests of the NHS and our patients first. The government kept going on about open doors, yet refused to ever meet junior doctors directly. When the final Dalton offer came through, despite weeks and weeks of talks, the government decided to wait till a few hours before action to present an offer that had with it a threat and a deadline of less than 24hours to effectively fully capitulate and promise to give up our principled position in order for the secretary of state to be able to demonstrate victory. Within 4 hours of action being over, the secretary of state stood at the dispatch box and delivered the message that he was imposing a contract. Anyone who genuinely was not trying to pick a fight for the sake of it, would have allowed the dust to settle and entered into a dialogue, allowed some degree of calm to take hold.

Again we tried not to react immediately out of anger and JDC went around the country to once again gather the views of doctors and make a considered response. The government since then, have made absolutely no attempt at all to engage junior doctors. Simply antagonising and perpetuating half truths and misrepresentations. Then this week the government decided to dial up the rhetoric further by referring to JDC as being “radicalised”. We have made every attempt to find a negotiated settlement. We continue to offer negotiations ahead of industrial action as it is in no ones interest to continue a bitter dispute. However we also want a solution that is sustainable, that isn’t used as a precedent to abuse other staff, that provides a long term solution to the staffing crisis in the NHS. Frankly we have spent a vast amount of time and resource trying to find solutions to the problems faced by government and employers as well as junior doctors because we want a long term sustainable NHS.

The government has 32 days before the first ever full withdrawal of junior doctors. We have been clear that should we enter into meaningful negotiations to the problems facing junior doctors, industrial action is unnecessary. However if we are stripping out well established protections, there needs a proper implementation timetable to ensure the replacements are robust and can gain the faith of the profession. The contract needs to transition all doctors in the current cohort fairly and not penalise doctors. It needs to have safety principles that are tested and ensure that they do actually work. At the heart of it, it cannot be used a vehicle to deliver a policy that frankly has nothing to do with a junior doctors contract. We refuse to be used as a tool to beat up other staff in the NHS. Given all that, if the government is to grant premium pay on Saturdays in the consultant contract, and as stated today are not using the juniors contract to establish a principle to attack Agenda for Change staff, I have no idea why they are so fixated in trying to prove this is all about Saturday pay in a solution we have offered that allows basic pay to be reduced to allow weekend pay to be compensated appropriately. The reason for this is not because we particularly want more pay on Saturday, we just need a sustainable solution that ensures acute specialties are not penalised and we don’t create a greater workforce crisis in the future.

Please stay strong, we will be organising a series of RJDC meetings over the next few weeks. Should local LNC reps want to invite JDC members, we will make every attempt to cover every meeting. Keep contacting us and keep supporting one another. If you would like me or one of the JDC officers to come and speak, please contact us via jdcchair@bma.org.uk or directly.

There does come a point where it becomes obvious that the government would rather sacrifice the NHS and patient safety than admit they were wrong. That moment maybe fast approaching. It has become obvious that the catalogue of mistakes that has dogged this whole process does not factor into the governments thinking. The NHS, patients and the profession are simply disposable on the alter of political expediency. Lets hope someone in government comes to their senses and says enough is enough, its ‪#‎timetotalk‬.

Best wishes

Johann

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