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This was the year when we were all put to the test. Our motives, our determination and our unity, all placed under the harshest possible spotlight.
There were many times when we had to prove whether ‘One profession’ was more than just a slogan.
And every single time we rose to that challenge. That’s what our friends and opponents alike learned from this year.
They learned that we are a strong and confident trade union, and we ourselves learned what a strong trade union can achieve.
I think the question people will ask when they look back on this dispute, is why on earth did this government pick a fight with junior doctors?
They said it was about seven-day services, but they could not tell us what it meant, or how it would be staffed and funded. They couldn’t fail to notice we worked seven days a week already.
No, I think the government picked a fight because they thought they could win. They thought the medical profession would just roll over. We didn’t, we shouldn’t, and I’m confident to say that in the future, we won’t.
When we were faced with those completely unacceptable proposals that would have failed to protect us from unsafe hours, failed to stem the recruitment crisis, failed a generation of doctors raising their concerns, we had no choice but to take action.
Industrial action was our last resort. At every picket line, I saw junior doctors speak up with energy and eloquence in defence of patient care. I saw doctors who may have only been qualified a few months, but were already taking on the mantle of leadership.
We achieved this with the unity of the whole profession. To every single SAS doctor, consultant, GP, medical student, nurse and patient who stood by us, covered for us, spoke up for us this year, thank you. And thank you to those outside England, who could see the dire impact of the plans on the whole NHS.
We were strong enough to make the government listen, to withdraw one red line after another, and to win for our members a number of significant improvements on those original plans – pay for all work done, a robust means to safeguard working hours, and financial recognition of weekends.
Our next job was to explain the detail of the contract offer to members and hear their concerns, and the JDC has got out there. Over the last two weeks we have visited more than 130 hospitals in England.
It’s now time to vote, and I urge all eligible junior doctors and medical students to do so. I know our members hold different views, but what I think is beyond argument is that we are only in a position to have anything to offer them because we stood up, together, for what we believe in. I think we have delivered a good deal despite unbelievable odds.
Our unity must be maintained, because there is so much else for which we must fight together for.
We have a government in denial over NHS funding. We cannot allow the government to continue hiding under a veil of bogus claims and risible targets.
A government in denial is a threat to the health service. They were in denial over the right of junior doctors to a fair contract, they are still in denial over their hopelessly vague, unevidenced promise on seven-day services, and they have always been in denial over the funding of the NHS.
The government should learn from the last year that problems which are ignored tend to get bigger, and they don’t come much bigger than the £22 billion deficit faced by the health service.
On this issue and every other, we should speak with one voice, because that voice will be louder and impossible to ignore.
I would like to give my thanks to the BMA staff around the country who have worked long hours and with good humour and dedication. They have shared our challenges, our disappointments, and they should share the credit too for what we have achieved. There are so many of you that I can’t name you all here, but I hope you know you who are. You’ve put up with a lot, I know. Thank you.
My best memory from the whole year was in meeting some of the patients who, though sometimes in frail health, came to support junior doctors and express their support for all we were doing. We may have had the mandate of 98 per cent of our members, but the mandate of the people we care for mattered too.
This was the year when our union said ‘no more’. It has left a legacy not of opposition, but of possibility.
Junior doctors, their morale threatened, motives questioned, their futures in doubt – they didn’t give up, they did the opposite.
Instead of a generation ground down, we saw a generation stand up for patient care. They led, and these leaders and advocates have shown us all that the values of the NHS are safe in all of our hands.
A profession challenged, a profession that came under attack, but a profession that proved beyond doubt that it could be unified behind its trade union and learned that with that unity there was little that it could not achieve.
The BMA has rekindled it's fighting spirit', let’s make sure that we all strive together for a strong trade union that will always be here to defend doctors, our patients and our precious NHS.
We are one profession, and we continue to stand together.
Dr Johann Malawana, JDC chair
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