One of the most senior officials in the British Medical Association has weighed into the row over junior doctors’ contracts.
Ellen McCourt, chair of the British Medical Association’s junior doctors committee, opined that both the doctors and nursing professions are chronically understaffed, and that the imposition of a new contract, which scraps bursaries and forces doctors to work at weekends, could lead to an exodus in staff.
McCourt is also concerned that morale could be hit, with the looming prospect of Brexit and a greying population also negative for the outlook of the NHS.
“The biggest risk with this contract, and also with this dispute continuing, is that doctors will leave the NHS. You can’t stretch us more thinly. There needs to be a plan – how are we going to make medicine more attractive to people? How are we going to make people stay in the NHS?”
The BMA has already announced that a five-day walkout will begin later this month, with the junior doctor leader, Johann Malawana, having resigned over previous negotiations.
Although the strike remains contentious, it is nonetheless difficult to see what other form of recourse doctors and nurses have other than industrial action.
McCourt believes that the risk for doctors is particularly great, with morale among GPs in particular at “rock bottom”.
The BMA leader believes that further stretching of resources will see doctors ditching the NHS in large numbers.
“I have some colleagues who took time out to work in New Zealand between their first two years of training and their speciality training, and they came back to the UK because they’d always planned on coming back to the UK. Now they plan on leaving again. One is a general practice trainee and one is an emergency medicine trainee – our most under-recruited specialities.”
Some prognostications already suggest that the health service would collapse if it were to lose its 57,000 workers who are EU nationals, due to Brexit.
McCourt noted that Jeremy Hunt had been unable or unwilling to respond to correspondence on the matter.
“I tried two weeks ago to get back in touch with the secretary of state to ask why haven’t we heard anything back and I could only get in touch with his special advisers; I couldn’t get in touch with him. And when we [met] on Tuesday it was very different – it was: ‘Well, you’re proposing industrial action so we haven’t responded’. If we’d seen some response or some movement then we could have said, well, the government do want to talk to us, they are willing to make changes without us again resorting to industrial action.”
A Department of Health spokesperson suggested that some of the criticisms of McCourt were unfair.
“It’s unfair to suggest we haven’t responded to this letter – we resolved two of the issues the BMA raised and gave them a clear timeline of when we would respond on the final two pay-related issues. Despite this, the BMA didn’t wait and announced industrial action. As doctors’ representatives, the BMA should be putting patients first, not playing politics in a way that will be immensely damaging for vulnerable patients.”