Political reverence towards the NHS is a smokescreenBMJ 2020; 369 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.m1914 (Published 15 May 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;369:m1914
- Mark Prince, specialist trainee year 6 in anaesthesia
It is the nature of politics to be fickle.1 Branded unprofessional and lacking vocation four years ago by the then health secretary, junior doctors are now exalted, along with our consultant and nursing colleagues, as NHS heroes. Furthermore, we are now showered with an assortment of additional benefits, ranging from priority supermarket access to free car breakdown cover.
It is easy to argue that, as frontline NHS workers, we deserve any recognition that comes our way. We put ourselves at increased risk through the course of our work and willingly accept changes in working practices to ensure that we are there for patients. And yet, the stark fact remains that we are also among the best paid public sector workers with a virtually guaranteed income. Consequently, we are also among the least likely to find ourselves in a spiral of debt, missed rent payments, and food poverty brought on by current circumstances.
Of course healthcare workers need to shop and eat, but not more so than the rest of society. What do social workers and delivery drivers think when they see us being showered with freebies, while they soldier on doing essential but poorly regarded work on low pay? Never must the mantra that we are all in this together seem to ring more hollow.
Political reverence towards the NHS can act as a convenient smokescreen to hide policy failures that expose some of society’s most vulnerable members. Asylum seekers and workers on zero hours contracts are among the many who have gone from just about managing to complete financial freefall. These groups, who would most benefit from discounted food and priority access, remain largely ignored in the wider public debate.
As doctors we have an ethical duty to voice these concerns, even if that means foregoing the occasional free pizza.
Competing interests: None declared.
Full response at: https://www.bmj.com/content/369/bmj.m1434/rr-16.
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