Imagine your hairdresser: they yawn, audibly, before fumbling for the right tools.

You step on a bus, seeing the driver who, with dark rings under their eyes, reaches for their coffee before the gear stick.

You instil your full confidence into these individuals in return for their services; for a short time, you have offered this person your confidence, your wellbeing and your life: you expect them to provide their service adequately. But can they perform to the same ability working on just five hours sleep?

Now imagine the individual who has only achieved five hours sleep; the professional yawning and fumbling; the person who is exhausted with dark eyes, is your doctor.

Many people have heard the news of the doctor’s strikes; they know that they were triggered by a change and they understand an organisation called the “BMA” is involved. But, rarely, do they appreciate the real issues involved, the impact that could result on them and, most importantly, what they can do about it. I spoke to Max, a junior doctor working at Southend Hospital, who clarified the situation.

Essentially, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt intends to impose a new contract on junior doctors, one which will see – according to Max – “junior doctors work even longer hours than they already work for about 15-20% less pay”. Max elaborates:

“This will lead to patients being treated by tired doctors”.

Truck drivers, explains Max, are protected by a law that only permit them to work for nine hours a day as fatigue, as any driver will attest, can result in mistakes which could be life-threatening. Max, amongst his colleagues, rarely works less than twelve hours a day and occasionally even exceeds fourteen hours throughout the night. Pulse, a website devoted to propagating issues regarding the NHS, reports that “80% of GP’s fear workload pressure will make them miss serious conditions”. Not only, then, is the new contract unethical, but it also appears incredibly dangerous.

The salary for junior doctors will be affected too, explains Max: pay protection will disappear for current doctors and their salaries will drop significantly – by up to a fifth.

“Pay protection is not offered to new starting junior doctors, [so] they will therefore start on much less come August.”

“If this is not insulting enough,” Max continues, “it is also very detrimental to acute specialties such as intensive care, Accident and Emergency and acute medicine, since these are the specialties where the banding is usually the highest, therefore the decrease in pay will be the most significant.”

The British Medical Association (BMA) has supported strike action from junior doctors, which has forced Southend Hospital to admit that patients should expect “some disruption” during strike times.

“There are huge rota gaps as it is; if the workforce
is stretched any further, the NHS will collapse.”

The conspiracy, dissolved to its simplest essence, runs as follows:

  1. The Government starve the NHS of economic funding
  2. The government highlight the poor standards of the NHS
  3. The government justify privatising the NHS.

But what are the problems of privatisation? Max outlined some negative drawbacks that Southend should expect, if its hospital – which has remained public since its inception in 1888 – is privatised.

“Private companies have different priorities compared to the NHS”, explains Max, “whereas in the NHS the patient is the centre of everything, private companies have their main interest in making profits for its shareholders.” Their interest, he says “is getting paid as much money as possible and to provide as little service as possible since service provision costs money.” This particularly bleak view of privatisation is not simply the bias from a junior doctor, but is supported by evidence across the country: Max points to Nottingham dermatology, which was privatised, where “patients suffered”. Furthermore, stresses Max, the South East Coast ambulance service was privatised and, subsequently, jeopardised as it was left in a “shambles” with “patients missing lifesaving dialysis appointments”. Once again, the evidence shows that poor national decisions negatively affect local people.

Max highlights the negative symptoms already experienced elsewhere in the UK are only set to continue in Southend, along with the surrounding proximity, if Jeremy Hunt’s actions are unchallenged. “It will impact Southend and Basildon significantly”, emphasises Max, “because of the stretching of services the new contract requires”. “There are no additional doctors available and the hospitals are not allowed to increase the funding for more doctors. It is therefore impossible for managers at Southend hospital to staff the required rotas and find enough staff since we are already stretched to breaking point,” he concludes.

By now, you may be wondering what you can do to help save the remaining National Health Service existing in Southend. In amongst in the wealth of bleak news, there appears one positive message: you can make a difference.

To aid the efforts of the NHS and BMA in just seconds, please take the time to sign this open-letter to the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt: .

Southend Hospital boasts a rich history which highlights the power of public good-will: in 1887, Southend Hospital was built at its first location, Warrior Square, for a combined cost of £2000 – all funded by the public. The hospital was incredibly modest, only possessing six beds and two cots. Since, the hospital has grown and grown, and now possesses 737 beds, treating hundreds of patients every single day. Since then, though, the treasured Southend Hospital has come under fire, being branded as one of the “worst performing accident and emergency departments in the country”, which “repeatedly failed to consistently meet the national target of seeing most A&E patients within four hours, and ensure most wait less than 18 weeks for operations” by Monitor, an organic regulatory body within the National Health Service. These are the detrimental results of under-funding and strain experienced by the NHS.

The National Health Service is a vital aspect of our lives, as we live together in the democracy of the United Kingdom. Established in 1948, the institution is not only a source of incredible care and treatment, but it also acts as a hub of national pride. Whilst Jeremy Hunt, along with his upper-class colleagues, watches the NHS crumble, he is most likely receiving private healthcare, leaving ruins for the rest of the population.

The plethora of issues surrounding the NHS at present are capable of instilling fear, but this is a national issues with local ramifications. Southend can reverse this process, by acting on a local level, therefore ultimately impacting on a national level.

As well as signing the open-letter, you can hashtag #NHSSTAFFSAYNO and #JuniorContract on social media to show your support.

Protect Southend NHS