Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Why the UK's junior doctors dispute is highly relevant to the UK's EU referendum

Why the UK's junior doctors dispute is highly relevent to the UK's EU referrendum

By Alan Wheatley 
In the run-up to the UK's EU referrendum, we are getting loads of 'prognoses' on what would happen to the UK economy if British citizens collectively chose to opt-out of EU membership altogether. A great many of those 'prognoses' feature the world 'could', yet here I just wish to briefly introduce the matter of fall-out from successive UK governments 'opting out' of NHS involvement in the Working Time Directive (WTD).

(The word 'prognosis' comes from the Greek meaning 'fore-knowing', and is generally used in the field of medicine. In the context of the UK' EU Referrendum discussion and a little known fact I intend to raise here, it is pivotal.)

In 2006, before a Conservative-Lib Dem coalition ousted a Labour Government, London Green Party MEP Jean Lambert produced a report on the Working Time Directive entitled: 'I Must Work Harder?' and sub-titled'Britain and the Working Time Directive'.(1)
Given the report’s findings, Jean makes the point that removing the opt-out from the Working Time Directive not only reduces the costs to society and the economy – it also makes good business sense! - See more at:http://www.jeanlambertmep.org.uk/2006/02/01/must-work-harder-britain-working-time-directive/#sthash.jaANi4dG.dpuf
Given the report’s findings, Jean [made] the point that removing the opt-out from the Working Time Directive not only reduces the costs to society and the economy – it also makes good business sense!(2)
In a 2013 report for the Centre for European Research entitled The Working Time Directive: What's All the Fuss About?, Katinka Barysch noted:
[The] WTD rules have proven hard for the NHS to cope with — harder perhaps than for most other European health systems. There may be a number of reasons for this but the most important one is that the NHS — almost uniquely among western health services — has always relied on trainee doctors (called junio doctors in the UK) to do much of the actual work in hospitals. In most other European countries, trainee doctors are only found in big-city teaching hospitals, while fully trained senior doctors (called consultants in the UK) look after patients in all other hospitals. To put it crudely: most traineed doctors in Europe are there to learn on the job while British ones are expected to do the job. The heavy reliance on junior doctors to provide care combined with a long-standing shortage of doctors, meant that young British doctors routinely ended up working 100-hour working weeks.(3)
Working a 100-hour working week can obviously be very stressful, whether that 100-hour week involves making 'life or death decisions' or not; but consider the outcomes of decisions involved from such a 100-hour working week involving trainees who by definition lack experience!

Given that matter, what does the Health Secretary make of the situation? What is Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt's prognosis on the matter of such "heavy reliance on junior doctors to provide care combined with a along-standing shortage of doctors" resulting in 100-hour working weeks for trainees?

Well, in February 2015 the Telegraph announced:
The health service has set aside £26bn to cover medical negligence claims against NHS hospitals, it has emerged.(4)
Vote Leave has argued spuriously that opting out wholesale from the EU would leave our NHS better off.(5) Would not greater adoption by the UK of the EU's Social Charter as a whole be better not only for the UK economy but for our national health as a whole? The Working Time Directive is just a part of the Social Charter, and I would argue that proper implementation of the Social Charter would — rather than merely 'could' — bar the sorts of degrading treatment of jobseekers that Kate Belgrave repeatedly witnesses at the hands of the DWP in her blog Kate Belgrave | Talking with people dealing with public service cuts.(6)

What do you think?


  1. http://www.jeanlambertmep.org.uk/2006/02/01/must-work-harder-britain-working-time-directive/
  2. ibid.
  3. http://www.cer.org.uk/sites/default/files/publications/attachments/pdf/2013/pb_workingtimedir_kb_26april13_bl-7268.pdf
  4. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/news/11402075/NHS-sets-aside-quarter-of-its-budget-for-medical-negligence-claims.html
  5. http://www.voteleavetakecontrol.org/
  6. http://www.katebelgrave.com/ 

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