Letter to the Times (unpublished) 

On Tuesday 12th January, 2017, across the UK Junior doctors went on strike in a dispute over pay and working hours. The dispute centres around the Healthy Secretary's (Jeremy Hunt) proposals under which 'normal' working hours will include weekends and evenings. This means that doctor's pay for these anti-social hours will be greatly reduced.

This is part of a move by the government to turn the NHS into a 'seven-day-a-week' service. Jeremy Hunt wants to get more work out of the same workforce for the same overall cost. And as it will make it cheaper for hospitals to roster doctors during these hours, more will be working time for which they were previously paid a premium.

The important question to ask, is who are the ‘stakeholders’ in the junior doctors’ strike? Which relationships matter most?

The government argue that relationships between patients and the NHS trump all other considerations; patient care can be improved by a 24/7 service, so it is an open and shut case. But is it so simple?

Which relationships are the ‘losers’ if the government succeeds in its plans? There is no point in junior doctors working without other related professional groups – anaesthetists, bed managers, nurses, radiologists, pharmacists, social workers, and ancillary staff. Has the government thought through the effects on relationships among professionals if they come under the stress of a 7-day work pattern?

Has it considered mental health and burn-out effects, which all damage relationships both inside and outside the NHS? Has it also considered the cost to partners, children, extended families and communities if another chunk of the workforce is removed from being present in their households over weekends?

And it is not even clear that the public either want or need additional medical services on Sundays. Early trials with 7-day GP surgeries did not demonstrate public demand. There is in effect already a 7-day NHS. Those who urgently need help always get it.

Are the ‘market men’ really more important to government than those concerned for public sector efficiency and social well-being which is most people’s priority?

Author: Dr Michael Schluter CBE - founder of the Relational Thinking Network

Photo: West Suffolk Hospital, Not Hunt's to Sell (By sasastro from Flickr).