Duncan Steele: To strike or not to strike

duncan_steeleTo strike or not to strike, that is the question we have all asked ourselves over the last few months. To walk away from our patients, albeit to leave them in the care of some of the most qualified doctors in the world, is an incredibly difficult and tormenting decision. The contractual intricacies are complex. The reason why the message from doctors about why this contract is unfair and unsafe has sometimes felt jumbled is because for each of us a particular point of this contract is most important. The list is long: it openly discriminates against women, penalises trainees switching specialty or doing research, extends the week meaning what little social life we have will further be destroyed, pay will be as little as £1.50 to be on call out of hours, we will have shorter breaks and longer days, and there are practical implications for rota design and complex supplements for out of hours work. These are all valid reasons to throw this out.

For me, the clause stating that the government is free to change any term or condition at any point thus allowing them free rein to change any previously negotiated point, is the metaphorical straw. In such a heated debate, why would they pour fuel on the fire like this?

Under the new contract, as an ST3 cardiothoracic trainee next year, I’ll get a huge pay rise. In fact, with the new contract the 20 or so extra hours I work each week will theoretically be paid. I might even be able to afford a house. However this is not about pay, Saturday or otherwise. Despite what the politicians say.

I think I’m a reasonable person and I think nearly every doctor I know is too. We just want a sensible discussion and a sensible contract that will improve things. The language used throughout this debate by Mr Hunt has also been almost deliberately inflammatory—militants, nuclear options, and the like. Mr Hunt’s stubbornness and unwillingness to listen to the overwhelming opinion that not just imposition, but the contract itself, is terrible, is trumped only by his misunderstanding of the research and his willingness to throw his weight around and impose his views on others.

The reason I’m striking is therefore very simple. These proposed changes are untested, unfunded, and unmodelled, and in my opinion incredibly harmful to the care that we will be able to provide patients in years to come. Being a multi-millionaire, Jeremy Hunt won’t have to live with the consequences if he’s wrong. Our country and my colleagues will. It’s simple, lift imposition and they’ll be no more strikes.

Duncan Steele is a CT2 in cardiothoracic surgery at St George’s, soon to be a ST3 in the same specialty. 
Competing interests: none declared.