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Opinion

A Meeting with Jeremy Hunt

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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.

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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.

RELATED: JUNIOR DOCTORS PLAN ‘ALL-OUT’ STRIKE.

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 He trusts and respects Bruce Keogh and David Dalton, yet we junior doctors on the frontline know they are outdated and no longer have their finger on the pulse of the NHS or the lives of junior doctors.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. 

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Opinion

‘Student nurses graduate with £54k of debt, shouldn’t we pay them a wage instead?’

The Government claims students are “supernumerary” and “not contracted to provide nursing care”.

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student nurses walking

Student nurses are the unseen workforce and vital to patient care.

While I am pleased for the thousands of students who will soon be starting their journey to become a registered nurse, it comes with a stark reminder.

In November 2015, ministers announced the NHS Student Bursary and tuition fee payment would be cut in a plan to increase the number of available student places.

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Suffice to say, this hasn’t worked.

Instead, we have seen a consistent decline in the number of student nurses qualifying. Official figures from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) show an overall decline in applications of 8% since 2015.

There is no debate that nurses need to be degree-level educated – but are student loans the best way to fill an ever-widing gap in our workforce?

The unseen workforce.

Student nurses are the unseen workforce and are sometimes vital to the delivery of safe, compassionate, person-centered care.

Completing over two-thousand hours of hand-on, direct clinical practice over three years – is it fair to ask them to accumulate up to £54,582 (plus 6.3% annual interest) of debt?

With a starting salary of £24,214, this is a debt the majority of nurses will never pay off.

The Government claims that because student nurses are “supernumerary” and “not contracted to provide nursing care” they need to be treated like all other higher education students.

While is it true that the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) mandates that student nurses are considered ‘supernumerary’ – how realistic is this expectation? We hear stories of student nurses, trainee nursing associates and healthcare support workers being used to fill nurse staffing gaps on an almost daily basis.

A self-perpetuating cycle.

With an estimated 40,000 unfilled nursing vacancies in the NHS alone, health and social care services in England are stuck in a self-perpetuating cycle.

Chronic under-investment in services has led to an increased demand on staff and subsequently affected recruitment and retention rates. Universities then fail to recruit enough nurses to meet the current demand and so the cycle continues.

The Royal College of Nursing has called on the Government to invest at least £1b per year into nursing education and come up with a long-term plan after its plan to increase numbers has failed to work.

Matching the proposed apprentice wage while student nurses are on placement would go some way towards alleviating the financial burden the government has placed on student nurses.

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Opinion

A fresh start?

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RCN Congress

I’m excited and I’m nervous. I qualified as a nurse just 15 months ago. I left a career in IT of “quite a few years” – I decided I needed a fresh start.

Now I’m sat on a train heading to my first ever RCN Congress. I’m a voting delegate and will be honoured to carry that responsibility for my branch.

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I’m also excited to finally be meeting people that I’ve solely (or mostly) only ever connected with online.

Finally, I’m looking forward to the various debates and resolutions. Listening to the speakers will further inform my views and I might even share a thought or two myself – fortunately speaking in public does not generally worry me (I’ll be the one with the ukulele).

A brief glance back to this time last year when certain “irregularities” were noticed by some members around the pay deal and communications regarding it.

The train of events that followed uncovered a number of poor practices regarding transparency and accountability and our current council were elected to address these.

I also mentioned I am nervous.

Recently, it has become clear that further “irregularities” have occurred – and questions will be asked.

Tomorrow morning is the Royal College of Nursing’s Annual General Meeting – an opportunity for members to ask questions. An opportunity for the council to demonstrate its commitment to openness, transparency, and accountability. An opportunity for a fresh start.

I genuinely hope the answers to the questions I raise are clear and dispel the concerns many of us have.

And if they don’t? Well, that’s why I’m nervous.

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