"I WAS at Basildon Hospital on Tuesday afternoon for my group therapy appointment at the Mental Health Unit and saw a small number of junior doctors picketing on the side of the road leading up to the car park roundabout. As I was early, I felt the urge to show my support for those gallant ladies and gentlemen who have, through no fault of their own, been thrust into the position of having to take the first full strike action in forty years.
I spent about five minutes talking to a hardy band of doctors and found them to be level-headed and genuinely upset at having to take any action of this kind. They were not the kind of people who were happy to be sent into battle against the government that wishes to impose a new contract on them. Having taken a few leaflets and stickers from them to distribute while walking to my appointment, I decided that I would return for the last hour of the strike action. It was in that final hour that I had my epiphany.
It was about 4:05pm as I joined the picket line and the spirits of the junior doctors were rather high given they had been standing in the bitter cold for hours with the occasional shower of hailstones to add insult to injury. It was obvious from the very outset that they had the support of the majority of visitors to the hospital, and so they should, as I can’t imagine many people would want to put up with a job where they are over-worked and under-paid and in which they are knee-deep in potentially hazardous bodily fluids on a daily basis. Cars passed by, their horns blaring out their support with the occasional thumbs-up from drivers and their passengers and it was against this ambience that I talked with the picketers.
We talked about the new contracts that Jeremy Hunt wants to impose on them and will, to paraphrase the words of one of the junior doctors, spread the already small number of junior doctors too thinly across the NHS, potentially leading to lower quality service. We talked about their personal aspirations in the profession – two want to become GPs, two desire to be surgeons, one, an ophthalmologist and another wants to be a radiographer of some description (although I still maintain that he wants to create a superhero). And we talked about their utter reluctance to take the action they are being forced to take because they would rather just do the job that they have a passion to do.
Jeremy Hunt and the right-wing media would have you believe that the junior doctors and the BMA are rabble-rousers who don’t understand how good the new contracts really are but if more people took the time to talk to junior doctors on the picket line, they’d realise that they are young, passionate individuals who, because of their background in the sciences, can see a bad deal for their patients when they see it. It’s not about more money; this fight is for the future of the NHS, the backbone of which are the junior doctors. I have always been of the opinion that the junior doctors, being at the sharp end of the NHS, are the better judges of what is or is not a good deal for patient care so, even this was not the epiphany to which I refer.
During my time on the picket line I was joined by another member of the public who wanted to show her support and I began to wonder why so few people had decided to join the junior doctors on their picket; it’s not like they don’t have public support for the strike action, judging by the 90% of cars honking as they passed by. And as we stood around talking and waving our signs, Cheryl, my fellow non-doctor, spoke passionately about why she was supporting the strike which only increased the number of questions I had regarding the lack of members of the public on site. Both Cheryl and I had come from Grays (which shows that Thurrock isn’t entirely without some people with fire in their belly on this issue) but no-one had seem to come from Basildon to support them (or, at least, not while I was there).
One of the junior doctors asked me if I had any ideas how to engage more members of the public in the protest against the imposition of the new contracts and I couldn’t give him an answer because the support is there. Is it a case of lassitude? Is it a case of believing Jeremy Hunt over junior doctors? Or was it because people don’t really care about the NHS until they actually need it?
The epiphany that hit me was not to do with why people hadn’t come to support the junior doctors, it was an entirely personal one. I had only joined the picket line because I was in the area for an appointment when I should have been there because the NHS is important and this new contract will endanger it. My epiphany was one that shames me because supporting the people who day in, day out help the sick, the broken and the dying is my civic duty and I would have failed in that duty if it were not for a synchronicity of dates.
Of course, it’s not just my civic duty to support the junior doctors but every single individual’s duty to do so. Therefore, feel free to show that support with the picketers who will be by the side of the road between 9am and 5pm on Wednesday; you will be most welcome and you will be appreciated for your time. However, if this gets posted too late for you to attend the picket line, show your support in whatever way you can because the NHS needs you!