Dr Rachel Clarke is currently a familiar face in the media as one of the junior doctors behind the #TimetoTalkJeremy Twitter campaign. Junior doctors have taken up a permanent post outside the Department of Health to try and resume meaningful talks with Jeremy Hunt. I was a junior doctor two years ago, and now as a GP, I feel that the problems that primary care and hospitals face are inextricably interlinked. In the battle for better healthcare, it is important that we are powerful allies alongside our hospital colleagues.
Like junior doctors, GPs are battling a recruitment crisis, lack of funding, unmanageable demands and burnout. Yet we seem to be handling these issues very differently compared to our junior doctor colleagues. I talked to Rachel to see what we could learn from them.
What was the inspiration behind this latest campaign?
I reached the point where I couldn’t stand any longer the hypocrisy of Mr Hunt repeatedly stating his door was always open to junior doctors, while hiding away from all of us. With an all-out strike only a week away, the stakes could not be higher. Talking is the only way to solve this. If he really cares about patient safety, as he claims to, he has a duty to do the one thing that can stop the next strike in a moment - get back to talks with the BMA.
What did Jeremy Hunt have to say when he met your colleagues last week?
Our hopes were raised when he agreed to meet the two doctors protesting outside the DH on Friday. But the meeting was a damp squib. Most disappointingly of all, he was not willing to offer to return to talks round the table with the BMA. This is the one thing in his power he could do to end next week’s strikes in a moment. Why he is not willing to do so is utterly baffling.
What effect will the new contract have on you as a working mother?
Women, who make up the vast majority of part-time doctors, are set to be hit particularly hard. Everyone who has children will also be hit by the need to find additional childcare for the increased numbers of antisocial hours. Already, the costs of finding childcare means I only bring to my family a tiny net salary. For the first five years I worked as a doctor, our childcare costs were so prohibitive I actually lost money by working. I am desperate to continue being a doctor, but this contract will make it so very hard. I am fearful whether I can remain in medicine.
How is this dispute linked to general practice?
This campaign is incredibly relevant to GPs partly because GP trainees are being hit by this contract, but also because general practice faces incredible pressures. If this contract goes through, services are going to be stretched even more. This will impact on GP workload, GP referrals, wait times for outpatient service and add to delays in acute patient care.
What advice do you have for GPs?
When our campaign started last summer, we never dreamed it would be so effective. The movement is wonderfully organic and responsive - there are no official leaders, no hierarchies, just 54,000 doctors united in opposition to this contract and determined not to allow its imposition. The Government grossly underestimated our resolve, strength and determination. I would urge GPs to harness social media as we have done and use its power to reach out more widely. I’d urge GPs to unite into one, powerful voice, and to help promote and share all your campaigning activities.
If Jeremy Hunt does not back down what will you do? Is mass resignation an option?
If, after all this, Mr Hunt still insists on imposing this contract, he will face 54,000 junior doctors who are desperate, fearful and distraught. When people feel desperate, they will do anything, and for us that includes mass resignation. I suspect Mr Hunt would imagine that’s an empty threat, but he has underestimated the strength of our resolve at every stage of this dispute. We are fighting for a safe NHS and if resignation is the only way to protect our patients in the long term from a contract that threatens them, then that is most definitely on the cards.