This year, the NHS has weathered a series of six strikes by junior doctors unhappy with a new contract proposed by the government, which aimed to increase weekend staffing levels without also increasing the level of remuneration. A vote in July rejected a renegotiated version of the contract, hammered out between the government and the British Medical Association, and which the BMA had recommended.
Since then there has been an uneasy silence regarding the issue, resulting in an announcement from the Junior Doctors Committee (JDC) of the BMA that due to the government’s failure to address the concerns raised, the contract has now been rejected in full and renegotiation will be required. This was followed by a call for fresh industrial action to be taken, starting in September.
The Important Role of Locums
When strike action is taken, the NHS’s already-stretched services still have to cope, and in the earlier strikes, both resident consultants (senior doctors) and freelance locum consultants played a big part in the strategy that was put in place. This strategy proved to be successful and, while there is no hard data to support the claim, anecdotal evidence suggests that services were improved as a result of more experienced professionals stepping into the breach.
That outcome raises a new question: does this approach have the potential to become a sustainable long-term solution to the NHS’s problems? Bearing in mind that a key driving factor of the new contract – and the rejection of it – is the matter of costs and remuneration, it’s certainly an interesting possibility.
A Sustainable Strategy?
The Department of Health’s latest annual report shows that between 2010 and 2015 the amount of healthcare bought from private sector providers doubled – from 4% to almost 8%. If utilising consultants – and especially locum consultants – would improve both services and patient outcomes, then that can only be a good thing. Following the recent government announcement that austerity policies could potentially be eased in favour of infrastructure investment as the UK gears up for Brexit, then this seems at least a plausible option.
If increased use of locums were also to take some of the stresses out of the current situation, then it’s not unreasonable to expect an increase in junior doctor morale would also ensue – and that’s something it’s hard to put a price on. One thing’s for sure – with recent calls from the JDC for further industrial action, something needs to happen, and it needs to happen sooner rather than later. Drawing on the wealth of experience offered by locum consultants might just be the answer.
We’d love to get your opinions on the ongoing junior doctors’ dispute and whether you believe a solution is in sight, so please leave a comment below or drop us a line on our Facebook page. We look forward to hearing from you.