The recent BBC story on how much NHS consultants were being paid as ‘overtime’ revealed this government’s true agenda for their next target: the consultant contract. Doctors for the NHS defended the need for the NHS to be staffed and funded properly, which was the real reason behind the need for some consultants to be called in over their allotted hours.
In a live interview on BBC5 Live radio (available to listen to here*) on 27 July, DFNHS Chair Dr Eric Watts countered the view that some consultants were being paid “exceptional” amounts of money by pointing out that this is not “overtime” as most people understand it. The key to understanding this lay in the fact that there simply aren’t enough consultants to cover for the increasing workload, and what was needed was a properly staffed NHS to prevent the regular need to call experienced staff back in over hours. He also pointed out that the majority of consultants regularly work over their hours without being paid any extra.
NHS underfunding was utterly indefensible; we should have adequately staffed hospitals in the first place.
But Daniel Mortimer, CEO of NHS employers, then tellingly went on to promote the idea that what was needed was a more “flexible” consultant workforce. He also claimed that consultant numbers were up and so was training. Perhaps most tellingly of all, he concluded his interview by http://www.eta-i.org/tramadol.html saying that the government’s plan for the consultant contract “is in line with what we are paying other colleagues” – ie, their intention to impose the new contract on consultants as they are on the juniors is undiminished and connected: they want this. This was the overture for far worse to come.
The demand for “flexibility” is as misleading for the consultants as it was for the juniors: this will not be about “creating a 7-day NHS” but about ensuring skilled, experienced NHS staff – whose job it is to save lives, and who almost without exception give over and above the letter of their current contracts to do just that as they put their patients first – are left worse off, less secure, and having to take unacceptable risks. All in the name of ideology: the mis-founded dogma that “Private must be better”.
The NHS must be adequately funded, publicly funded, and publicly accountable. Imposing worse terms and conditions on its staff will do nothing for that. That a government which was instrumental in separating the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Health from the NHS through the Health and Social Care Act should apparently be lining itself up for what seems to be yet more conflict with NHS staff is perhaps as unsurprising as it is wrong.
*The story on the NHS consultants starts at 1:42:01 and lasts until 1:48:25.