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Dear Mr. Hunt,
I know you probably won’t read this. But if you do, you might appreciate it; you might even find some useful advice in what I have to say. Don’t worry; I suspect that the nuances of the doctor’s contract negotiations confuse you, so I will speak to you in a language that you hopefully do understand: the language of Politics.
Now, we doctors have generally been a pretty non-political bunch. We are too busy patching up the broken bones and broken spirits of our patients to pay too much attention to politics. We don’t philosophise much either. There’s no room for philosophy when you are trying to get a chest drain into a critically unwell patient’s chest. But, Mr. Hunt, it appears that although we had been generally uninterested in politics, Politics has been very, very interested in us.
When, in the wake of the DDRB report, you made your disingenuous comments about us as a profession, we were initially rather puzzled. Why would you want to alienate doctors in your quest for a 24/7 NHS? Why would you not even try to take us forward with you in a spirit of partnership and dialogue?
We then started to realise something. We started thinking about the events of the last few years. We started to see the big picture. And we are coming to the conclusion that you do not actually have the interests of a viable NHS at heart at all. 5 years ago, your Coalition government made a specific political decision to address the financial crisis of 2008 largely through public sector cuts. After systematically transferring the debts of the private banking sector into the public sector; the Prime Minister then informed us that our public finances were in crisis. Then, instead of increasing tax on those best able to pay, or regulating corporate tax avoiders effectively, your Government chose to place the burden of the financial crisis onto the shoulders of the ordinary people of this country.
You called this Austerity.
Now, the NHS is by a wide margin the biggest employer in the country. It’s also one of the single biggest areas of spending by Government. So of course, in the name of Austerity, you just had to drive through your so-called “reforms”.
Billions of pounds in “savings” were demanded from the NHS. The majority of NHS Foundation Trusts are now in deficit as a result. The “acute medical take” is starting to resemble a war zone. There is a critical shortage of psychiatric beds, ambulances are dangerously delayed and safe ward staffing levels have been hit. Our pay, and the pay of our health care colleagues, has already been hit too. Our ability to discharge patients safely into the community has been hampered. GP’s are overwhelmed with demand, and the social care available to our elderly and disabled is inadequate.
And to top it all; at the same time as austerity; in 2012, your government pushed through the Health and Social Care Act; with its vision of a fragmented, privatised NHS driven by relentless competition.
You claim, Mr. Hunt, that you want to expand the NHS into a 24/7 service. And yet you want this to occur alongside the biggest squeeze on NHS funding in its history. Something incongruous is happening here. Something that needs explaining. I think we have worked out what that explanation is....
Your aim is NOT to build a sustainable, 24/7 NHS. That’s just a phrase you find useful in misdirecting the public. We are ON to you Mr Hunt.
Your aim is simply to get doctors, and the rest of our NHS colleagues, working longer hours, for less pay, with less resource, so that in the pursuit of Austerity you succeed in destroying the very existence of a safe, effective, publicly-funded NHS.
You want the NHS to fail, and you want it to be seen to fail.
You can then proceed to sell off the carcass of the NHS to the private sector - as you are already doing, much to the delight of many of your political colleagues who stand to profit from their financial ties with the private health sector.
Mr. Hunt, when you made your ill-advised comments about the medical profession two weeks ago, you signaled your preference for empty rhetoric over real dialogue. When your government issued its non-response to the Petition, signed by hundreds of thousands of people, calling for a debate on your position, we realised that you and your colleagues are fundamentally uninterested in rational discussion.
And here is my advice to you, Mr. Hunt.
Be very careful about how you choose to proceed when you return from your summer holiday. You are fast making enemies of us. We are alert. Across the NHS, people are coming together and trying to work out how best to defend the institution which you seem so intent on undermining.
It has been said that “The NHS will last as long as there are folk left with the faith to fight for it”. We stand ready to fight for it Mr. Hunt. There are 1 million of us; there is only one of you.
Dr Yannis Gourtsoyannis, Specialty Registrar in Infectious Diseases, London.