The long running dispute between Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and the British Medical Association over a new Junior Doctors contract may finally be at an end. Yesterday a deal was agreed and will now be put to a vote amongst BMA members.
This may put an end to a sorry chapter in the NHS’s sorry history, which serves to illustrate the madness of state monopolies. The BMA has long claimed the proposed contract was ‘unsafe’, with unworkable shift rotations that would put patients at risk from overworked, tired doctors. Their initial claim of a 30% pay cut was quickly dropped and the BMA removed a calculator demonstrating how they got that result from their website. In fact, the new contract offered a 13.5% rise in basic pay to an already relatively well paid profession: a junior doctor starts @ £22k and within a few years can expect to take home close to £40k including overtime. The trashed out compromise apparently reduces the basic pay raise against more generous terms for weekend pay.
The truth is that this was always about nothing but pay. The BMA admitted early on that where they couldn’t meet Jeremy Hunt was on the issue of Saturday pay – not patient safety. But it was quickly politicized and framed as a fight over unsafe working conditions and even a back-door privatization of the NHS. Ironically – but totally lost on the junior doctors – it is because of a state monopoly on health care that a strike was ever going to be relevant. With more than 50% of junior doctors expressing an (empty) threat that they desire to leave the NHS if the contract was imposed, in a competitive market they would have been free to go and find better working conditions at a competitor if they could – and by doing so force the NHS to improve their offer. But working for a state behemoth with a monopoly their fall-back option was striking.
Maybe now the junior doctors have got what they wanted – we will wait and see after the ballot. The tax payer is footing the bill. Sadly, the public is too blinded by their misguided reverence for the NHS to see that a state monopoly is as damaging in health care as it would be in any other industry.