Jeremy Hunt just took his fight against the junior doctors to the brink of madness

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Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has pushed his fight against the junior doctors to the edge of reason with his latest plan to punish them for moving abroad.

Hunt’s £100m plan to train an extra 1,500 doctors a year will contain fines for those who move to work in another country, in a bid to tackle the recruitment crisis and end our reliance on foreign-born doctors after the EU referendum vote.

Under the scheme, new recruits will have to work for the NHS for at least four years or they’ll face disciplinary procedures. Foreign medical students will also be forced to pay for their own clinical placements.

A source defended the penalties for UK doctors to The Independent:

We are announcing a commitment to fund many more home-grown doctors. What we want is for them to guarantee us a period of service in the NHS in return.

It’s people who are trained at the taxpayer’s expense and then very quickly move abroad – that’s what we are trying to disincentivise.

It costs £200,000 to train every doctor, so we think it’s reasonable to expect that the NHS will benefit from that investment.

But campaign organisations expressed scepticism:

Meanwhile, the British Medical Association (BMA) offered a different approach:

The Government must tackle the root causes of this workforce crisis and the reasons why so many UK-trained doctors are considering leaving the NHS, rather than forcing doctors to stay in the health service.

Demotivated, burnt-out doctors who don’t want to be in their jobs will not be good for patients.

The BMA points out that forcing doctors to work is not a recipe for a smoothly operated health service.

The Nuffield Trust echoed the BMA’s call to look at the fundamental reasons for doctors moving away:

We need to be looking closely at why we are losing skilled doctors to other countries, rather than compelling them to stay.

On Twitter, users had their own ideas about the root causes of the recruitment crisis:

Dr Ellen McCourt, chair of the BMA’s junior doctors’ committee, said they’d been “saying for years” that morale among doctors was at an “all-time low”. According to a new study by the BMA, 42% of doctors want to practise abroad a decade after they’ve graduated.

Taking a look at the chronic underfunding of the NHS under Tory austerity makes the free-falling morale become clearer:

The consensus from medical organisations is that the NHS will not benefit from Hunt’s training drive for another decade. So it does nothing to tackle the immediate problem, summarised in a report by the Royal College of Physicians, which concluded that the NHS is “underfunded, under-doctored [and] overstretched”.

The bigger picture

The Health Secretary needs to tackle the recruitment crisis, but without fully funding the NHS, any move is ultimately just plugging a hole while others open up. Far from funding the service in full, the Conservative government is actually cutting the health budget by £22bn. Little wonder then that Shadow Health Secretary Diane Abbott warns that the NHS has “never been in a more perilous state”.

While refusing to even fund the existing service in full, Hunt’s notorious contract demands ever more from the NHS. When asked where the money or staff to provide these services are supposed to come from, Hunt lashes out. He has gone as far as trying to force the contract upon junior doctors.

The latest move is a continuation of this strategy. Rather than bringing working conditions within the NHS to a decent standard, he is attempting to force junior doctors to remain in an underfunded, under-staffed, over-stretched service by implementing draconian penalties for those who seek to leave.

Why not fund it properly?

It is becoming ever more clear that Hunt’s efforts are designed to break the NHS, with a view to using failures of the service as evidence of the need to privatise it. There is ample evidence for this:

  1. Back in 2005, Hunt co-authored a book calling for the NHS to be replaced with a privatised insurance system. Accordingly, the Health and Social Care Act legally abolished the NHS as a public service in 2012, opening it up to privatisation. And in 2014 alone, 40% – £3.54bn – of new NHS contracts were awarded to private firms.
  2. At the 2016 Conservative Party conference, there is an event calling for further privatisation of our health service. It is        hosted by the Institute of Economic Affairs, which plans to totally abolish the NHS. All of the speakers advocate more private provision in the NHS.
  3. Last July, the government quietly proposed an inquiry into moving towards a ‘pay for’ NHS. At the recent G20 Summit in China, Theresa May reaffirmed her party’s avid support of ‘free trade’ deals like TTIP, NAFTA, TPP and TISA, which could cement existing NHS privatisation.

This is the aim of the Conservative Party: for profiteering private companies, like Virgin, Circle, Bupa, Serco, UnitedHealth and even Lockheed Martin, to feast upon our public health service.

Hunt’s plan to fine doctors who move abroad is ludicrous because he doesn’t really care about solving the problem, only destroying the NHS and opening it up to private provision.

Fortunately, junior doctors are fighting back. After a court battle with five such doctors, Hunt can no longer impose his dangerous contract on them.

Get Involved!

– Sign the petition to stop the junior doctors’ contract for good.

– Keep up to date with campaigns and protests to save the NHS.

Featured image via Twitter

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