A Meeting with Jeremy Hunt

As assignations go, this one could have been like a date with the devil. An hour in a room with Jeremy Hunt? For many of my 53,000 junior doctor colleagues, this might be their worst nightmare.

Actually, the reality was rather different.

Last night I met Jeremy Hunt in the heart of the parliament buildings. I was one of the two doctors who were invited from outside the Department of Health to talk. Why were we outside the DoH you ask? A group of junior doctors launched the peaceful indefinite protest 8 days ago now to highlight Jeremy’s unwillingness to return to negotiations over the junior doctor contract. An empty chair with his name sits beckoning for resolution.
So on my day off I turned up at 9 am to wait for a chance to talk.  The support from the public, MPs, civil servants and the BMA has been overwhelming.

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His advisor and secretary turned up at our protest around 17:30 and asked if we wanted to talk to Jeremy.  I did not feel rushed to go meet him but there was a definite – ‘now is the only good time’ feel. As we walked up the steps to his parliamentary office, I carried the weight of 53000 doctors hoping he’d change his mind about imposing his contract.

Was I nervous? No. I genuinely wasn’t. And the reason is this: I don’t care anymore how it started, the whole ‘he said/he said’ arguments between the BMA and Jeremy, which I can never verify because they occurred behind closed doors. Nor do I care about which point was the sticking point in negotiations. Do I want a pay cut? No. Do I want to do more night shifts? Definitely not. I know the NHS is a political bargaining chip but I even don’t care at this stage which government is tinkering with it. What matters is the patients. We need a solution, a repair and – to go one further – an improvement to the relationship between junior doctors and Jeremy Hunt. Because only in that way will we break this deadlock.

What was most striking during our meeting was the disconnect, the mismatch. We both said we want to protect patients and improve services. He trusts and respects Bruce Keogh and David Dalton, yet we junior doctors on the frontline know they are outdated and no longer have their finger on the pulse of the NHS or the lives of junior doctors. He seems to genuinely believe his new contract will save lives at weekends, we know that – contract or no contract – we simply do not have enough doctors as it is.  We are papering over the cracks in the NHS with goodwill. There are so many rota gaps I get daily emails from multiple hospitals asking for locum cover. He says he will hire another 5000 doctors, we know these ‘extra’ doctors just don’t exist. And if they did, what on earth would make them want to come work in England, where a contract is being forced upon them?

We had a civilised conversation, not a slanging match, and I asked a lot of questions, about staffing levels, safety, funding, statistics interpretation and how we came to this impasse.  Nothing new was said but under-running this discussion was the feeling that he believes what he says, though we know some, if not most of it is flawed.

Jeremy Hunt may think he is doing the best thing for us, but myself and the 53,000 doctors in uproar over this know that contract imposition is far from the best thing for our patients, us, or the future of the NHS.

So I asked the ‘what if’ question. What if you could have anything in exchange for removing imposition? His reply? ‘Nothing’.

Is there really nothing he would ask for in exchange for removal of the imposition and to work with junior doctors?
And so, sadly, the peaceful protest outside the DoH goes on in the hopes of future negotiations.

I stand for my patients and for my colleagues but, if Jeremy genuinely stands for improving the NHS, surely we should be on the same page? What would it take, Jeremy? Call me naïve, but I stand by this: it is never too late for us to find a solution together if the imposition is removed. The olive branch is there to take up. Let us pick up a clean slate and move forward together: what would it take, Jeremy?

This post was originally posted on the website of Alex Murray a Junior Doctor in the NHS.