England

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Speech from the BMA junior doctors committee chair, Jeeves Wijesuriya

Read the transcript below.

Colleagues, RB.

Three years ago, we were here in Belfast, waiting on the will of the people.

Two public votes of immense and far-reaching importance were taking place. We have lived with the consequences of both of them ever since.

Brexit has been for the politicians to sort out, or not as the case may be, but The junior doctors’ contract dispute became our equivalent, and our responsibility to resolve.

The biggest dispute in a decade, and though the deal was improved through unprecedented strike action, it ended up dividing us. Splitting junior doctors in England almost down the middle, looking to us to both change the things we knew were wrong with the contract, but also to make the things we had fought so hard for … work.

We looked to continue action, but this failed. We looked to resume talks but given our continued dispute, we were trapped outside of meaningful negotiations with our bridges burned. Left with the bitterness and dejection of a conflict in which no one won with the goodwill of junior doctors drained. Our devolved nations junior doctors committees ‘taking back control’ whilst we spiraled out of it.

I was elected chair months after this outcome, when we were lost in the wilderness. We had put down the mandate to take industrial action, because we needed a mechanism to make changes for our demoralized workforce but we need that one that had learned from the mistakes of the past.

We had a choice back then. We could have simmered with self-righteous resentment. We could have fallen into the trap of the reliving the groundhog day that Brexit has become. Negotiating only with each other, while forgetting there was a world outside and a government we have to negotiate with. What would that have achieved for our members but stagnancy?

We took the hard road. We talked. We looked people in the eye, people who we had accused of blocking progress and who had accused us of the same.

But people we needed to deal with despite this. We reflected on the mistakes that had been made and bore the frustration of people wanting more now so we could build the processes that actually could give it to them.

Not everyone supported us. Some of our members thought we should still be on strike over the deficiencies of the contract, stating talks were a distraction. Others were ready to move, frustrated they were unable to claims some of the benefits of a new contract.

Both groups disillusioned, both groups tired. A divided union in need of a reason to trust in its representatives again.

We started to make progress. 10 million pounds invested in rest and fatigue facilities, more flexibility in applications, greater more equitable access to study budgets. We delivered the enormous and long overdue steps of shared parental leave and child bereavement leave for all junior doctors in England.

Areas of work we had pushed for, for the better part of a decade… delivered, through engagement, through challenge and construction.

But the ghost of 2016 lingered still, our Brexit still unsolved. In dispute over the contract, and for as long as that contract stayed the same, we had to remain in dispute. For years to come, in that wildnerness, unable to veto further changes. So we pushed, and achieved an opportunity to review and change this contract, as equal partners.

We rebuilt the process from the ground up, supported by excellent trained professional staff, with input from our grassroots members, our regional committees and logging every issue raised with us at the BMA by our junior doctors.

We forged a chance to make this new contract not perfect, but Better…

And a basis for further enhancements with an improved method that listens to experts and has learned from the mistakes of the past.

After months of patient negotiations, we put the deal to our members. I and my fellow JDC members, having ensured the changes reflected the asks of our membership, endorsed this deal.

I wanted to be able to come here today and tell you that we had succeeded.

I’m pleased to say that I can, Colleagues, RB, it is a yes!

It’s a yes to safety. To junior doctors no longer having to choose between driving home exhausted after a long shift or paying to stay.

It’s a yes to humanity, to extended periods of leave when we need it and time off when we need it most.

It’s a yes to new money - £90 million over four years and a guaranteed 2% pay uplift each year.

It’s a yes to better pay for weekends and late shifts – something the government told us three years ago that it would never concede.

To £1,000 a year extra for less-than-full-time trainees and an extra point on the pay scale for the most senior registrars.

It’s a yes to using exception reporting when we miss out on our training.

It’s a yes to the independently validated study of the impact on equalities.

The reality is we didn’t just need a yes, we needed a clear answer from our members.

With a return of almost 30% of all voting members, we have an overwhelming Yes vote of 82%.

And that is how you do a second referendum!

Colleagues, on the 2 July, JDC will ratify the decision of our junior doctors and end this dispute.

We will begin formal collective bargaining in a new relationship that re-establishes medicines social contract with government.

We will once again, be able to engage with the business of junior doctors that reaches far beyond a single nations contract but to working conditions, training systems and wellbeing quadrinationally.

Our fight for working conditions is not over, and it never will be. But we are already on the road to delivering step-on, step-off training, and more flexibility so we can reflect the reality of our members’ lives and ambitions.

We can press for these important changes together, and we can learn from these three difficult years. We cannot inflict another Brexit on our membership.

To do that we need to listen to uncomfortable truths. To gather evidence, and not just that which supports our views. And then engage – to be in the room where decisions are made and argue not amongst ourselves but with the people who can work with us to make things better. With the Secretary of State, with NHS employers and with the Department of Health.

That is why I am so proud of this group of people in front of me, this group who did exactly that, who delivered for their peers, who worked together to ensure the voices of the many were heard, who ensured this really was a ‘junior doctors’ contract.

Led by Matt Tuck, Sarah Hallett and Mairi Reid, this group who are ready to take on the next challenges and the dragons we have yet to slay.

I must also pay tribute to our incredible staff, who have sat in the trenches with us throughout. Our policy, negotiations, comms, legal, corporate development, member relations and committee services teams have been patient, astonishing and delivered the incredible every time we have asked.

But also, I must acknowledge those who came before me, who faced intense pressures with energy, respect and dignity. To Pete, To Ellen, to Kitty and Andrew.

We will always be in the debt of Johann Malawana, who led us through the height of our dispute and brought us together in a way we simply had not been before.

He is a good man. I was proud to be in his team and I’m proud to be his friend. I'm just so pleased he can be here for today.

This task, this immense and complicated honor of representing junior doctors, will soon fall to others. In September, after three years I will be stepping down as JDC Chair.

I leave full of hope and faith in my successor and for my successor... and I know, that they will do a phenomenal job.

Colleagues, we had a battle. Battles tend to get won or lost. But that battle three years ago had no winners. The deal we have achieved, and which our members have so overwhelmingly backed, means we can now say that we all win.

Our doctors, our patients, our NHS.

As we take this step on that road we must look forwards collaboratively and constructively to the next one.

For the last time RB,

It has been the most immense privilege of my life, and I will never forget it.

Thank you.