I was dismayed that junior doctors went on strike this week, and I commend those doctors who continued to work.
I agree with the Government’s Chief Medical Officer, Dame Sally Davies, that strike action was a step too far.
Talks had been advancing well until the doctors’ union, the BMA, suddenly and inexplicably walked away.
I understand why NHS staff who work hard over weekends take offence at the implication that there isn’t a seven day service already. And of course emergency care is provided if any of us have an accident at the weekend, for example.
But the fact is that hospitals roster three times less medical cover at weekends compared to weekdays, and it’s one of the reasons why new-born deaths are 7 per cent more likely, emergency surgery deaths are 11 per cent more likely, stroke deaths 20 per cent more likely and cancer deaths 29 per cent more likely for those admitted at or around weekends.
That’s which is why a truly 7-day NHS was a key promise in the Conservative Manifesto.
Under the proposed deal three quarters of doctors would see their salary increase – and all those within legal hours would have their pay protected.
A reduction in Saturday working rates would be offset by an 11 per cent increase in basic pay, which would mean doctors’ pensions pots also going up.
The maximum working week would be cut from 91 to 72 hours, with shorter shift patterns.
And there would be greater flexibility on rotas, so that juniors would no longer have to miss special occasions due to inflexible rostering.
Does this seem unreasonable? If there are still issues of concern then they should be discussed sensibly and resolved around the table.
The staff in our public services are immensely important. They make our services tick. They work the long hours and deliver the policing, the teaching, the care, and so much else besides.
And I know from personal experience how wonderful the care at our local hospitals can be. Like so many, I rely on the NHS and have cause to be grateful for it.
But we must all remember this: our public services must be run in the interests of the public. Sometimes this will require challenging reform. But in the NHS the patient must come first.