Medical student Ellie R reports on Monday’s demo to protest against proposed junior doctors’ contracts that put patients’ lives at risk.
If one were to rank professions in order of likelihood of taking to the streets demanding more power for their unions, doctors probably wouldn’t come terribly far up the list. There are many reasons for this before we even consider long hours and apathy fuelled by low morale, but this week something changed. The 5000-strong crowd that gathered outside Methodist Hall in London included doctors, students and members of the public united by the need to express dismay at the new contract arrangements that have been proposed for junior doctors, which will apparently be enforced from August 2016.
The demo was organised by a group of doctors and medical students to target a meeting being held by the NHS Employers organisation in an attempt to directly undermine the doctors’ union the BMA. Having been so deaf to the concerns and recommendations of the BMA that they walked away from the negotiating table, NHSE launched an England-wide roadshow to “hear junior doctors’ views” on the proposed contracts (the changes have been rejected by the Scottish and Welsh governments and it is unclear how the NHS in Northern Ireland will act).
As the protest plans took root on social media, NHSE responded by upping the capacity of the meeting and offering bland placations that our views would be carefully listened to. On Monday, however, they seemed to become overwhelmed by the number of people planning to stand up and be counted: they cancelled the meeting (and all subsequent events) with a few hours to spare and released a statement announcing that Jeremy Hunt had invited the BMA Junior Doctors’ Committee, now headed up by the impressive Johann Malawana, back to the table.
Although this move answered one of our demands and the cancellation left us without a direct target, the demo went ahead anyway. More people turned up than anyone could have predicted and despite the anger expressed by all the atmosphere was festive, with songs, incredible placards and a rainbow of coloured scrub suits. I don’t doubt that there were many different pathways to abject mistrust of the way our government is handling the NHS but the crowd at the Save Our Contracts demonstration seemed united in the viewpoint that the lack of consideration for safety and fairness in the outlined proposals amounts to a final straw. Something has to give, and it won’t be patient welfare, doctors’ wellbeing or our beloved healthcare system if we have any say on the matter.
I won’t easily forget how it felt to stand in the middle of Whitehall, facing off against the Department of Health surrounded by thousands of people singing “Where are you Jeremy?” The building was strangely dark considering it that was 7.30pm, well inside of the “social” working hours suggested to be reasonable by the NHSE (7am-10pm Monday to Saturday). I hope the BMA can use the mandate we have handed them to get us a fair deal that will ensure safety for all. Failing that, we’ll see them on the picket lines.