Junior doctors’ dispute is result of financial mismanagement, Labour says

BMJ 2015; 351 doi: (Published 30 September 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h5244
  1. Gareth Iacobucci
  1. 1The BMJ

Ministerial threats to impose a new contract on junior doctors in England risk taking the NHS back to “the bad old days” and are punishing doctors for the government’s own financial mismanagement of the service, Labour’s new shadow health secretary has said.

In a speech at the Labour Party’s conference in Brighton this week, Heidi Alexander also warned Prime Minister David Cameron to be prepared for “the fight of your life” over plans to further squeeze NHS funding.

In her first major speech since being appointed to the shadow health role by Labour’s leader, Jeremy Corbyn, the Lewisham East MP told delegates that the government’s drive to achieve £22bn (€30bn; $34bn) of efficiency savings by 2020 would lead to cuts in staff, cuts to pay, and treatments being rationed.

She added that the government’s plan to impose new terms on junior doctors1 would damage the care of patients and accused the prime minister and the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, of leaving the health service “on its knees.”

Alexander also lamented the real terms pay cuts set to be imposed on NHS staff over the next five years and said that Labour had “a duty of care to those who do so much to care for us.”

She told delegates, “At the same time as they are asking staff to do more, they are paying them less. The government wants to impose a new junior doctor contract that risks returning to the bad old days of overworked doctors, too exhausted to provide patient care.

“This government is punishing staff for their own financial mismanagement of the health service. It is bad for staff and bad for patients. It must not go on.”

Alexander, who successfully led a legal battle against Hunt’s plans to close emergency and maternity wards at Lewisham Hospital in 2013,2 acknowledged that some big changes to health and social care were needed, such as bolstering mental healthcare, changing the way that complaints were handled, and devising “a long term solution” to funding the care of elderly people.

But she warned that the £22bn efficiency savings identified by the government were putting patient care at risk and vowed to protect the NHS “with every bone in my body.”

Alexander said, “Speak to the people who work in the NHS, and they will tell you that savings on this scale cannot be delivered without putting patient care at risk.

“Conference, Labour will not sign up to these plans to squeeze the NHS when those who work in the NHS say this would harm services.

“So let me say this directly to David Cameron: if you press ahead with plans that put patient care at risk, get prepared for the fight of your life.”


Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h5244


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