“The NHS will last as long as there are folk left with faith to fight for it”

Aneurin Bevan

Any of you who follow me on Twitter will have seen a deluge of tweets about the junior doctor protests today (sorry about that!). All the recent coverage over the last few days has incensed me. Jeremy Hunt is claiming that 11,000 excess deaths at the weekend are caused by the fact that “financial penalties” and “excessive overtime” deter hospitals from rostering enough staff at the weekend. This is a blatant misinterpretation of a study published in the BMJ recently which stated that around 11 000 more patients die each year within 30 days from admission occurring between Friday and Monday compared with admission on the remaining days of the week. The absolute risk of death (within 30 days) after admission to hospital is 1.8% overall; the statement that you have a 15% higher chance of dying if you are admitted on a Saturday means that the absolute risk of death goes up to 1.98% – doesn’t sound quite as dramatic does it?

This weekend effect is not unique to the NHS and the causes are unclear. In this paper, the authors state that “It is not possible to ascertain the extent to which these excess deaths may be preventable; to assume that they are avoidable would be rash and misleading.” Despite this, Jeremy Hunt told his Labour opposite Heidi Alexander: “There are 11,000 excess deaths because we do not staff our hospitals properly at weekends. I think it is my job, and the Government’s job, to deal with that, and to stand up for patients.” Last month, he blamed consultants, now he’s blaming junior doctors!

There are less staff at the weekends because there is no elective service (there are between ½ and ⅔ less patients admitted at the weekend compared with during the week).  At a time when rotas are more stretched than ever, the gaps are being filled by locum doctors or by the staff already there, putting them under even more pressure and at risk of burnout.

Then this morning, Mr Hunt stated that the junior doctors are so angry because the BMA has misrepresented the Government’s plans and is misleading them. What he has failed to grasp is that junior doctors (describing anyone from a newly qualified F1 to an ST8 who is about to become a consultant) are intelligent people who have read the Dept of Health proposals and have come to their own conclusions. If they thought they were being mislead by the BMA then they would have said so & would not have felt compelled to protest today.

The numbers evident in the photos from today speak volumes. I have never witnessed such solidarity in our profession. We have been taken for granted for far too long and the time has come to say “enough is enough”. This is an attack on our professionalism and our sense of vocation. Myself and my colleagues (junior & senior) are dedicated & committed professionals with patients safety at the forefront of everything that we do. We already staff a 24/7 NHS and will continue to do so.

This proposed contract will remove the safeguards against working excessive hours & will penalise those in the specialties with the most anti-social hours. It will also deter others from entering these specialties, many of which already have a recruitment crisis. The protest is not about pay, it is about safety – for doctors and patients. The NHS is worth fighting for and we will continue to do so.


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