Aside Posted on
The NHS is currently in the midst of a winter crisis. Many NHS Trusts are on black alert, which means the hospital is at full capacity: admissions are temporarily closed, escalation beds are in use, patients are waiting in A&E for beds, and routine surgery is being cancelled. Meanwhile, problems are so bad in General practice that the BMA’s General Practitioners Committee (GPC) has called an unprecedented crisis summitlater this month to discuss the ongoing problems. So on the face of it, there couldn’t be a worse time for junior doctors to take industrial action over their proposed new contract. But as I will argue, Jeremy Hunt’s deal is so unfair and unsafe, that it will lead to an exodus of junior doctors from an already highly pressured and understaffed NHS. This will undoubtedly have a long term detrimental effect on patient care and will put lives at risk. It is therefore essential for junior doctors to take action to protect themselves and to help prevent a worsening health service crisis with serious implications for public health.
Make no mistake – this is an incredibly difficult situation and although the published evidence shows that mortality rates may actually decrease during strike action, the risk of patient harm is not insignificant. Having an operation cancelled or delayed is an extremely distressing experience for patients and their relatives. They may well be left in pain or disabled by their current condition so treatment delays may be detrimental psychologically, physically and economically. There is also a risk that patients who have elective treatment delayed may present with an emergency admission at a later date. A good example would be a patient made to wait longer for a hernia operation who then presents as emergency admission with strangulation of the hernia. These events will be rare, but when thousands of patients with a whole range of medical and surgical conditions have treatments delayed, significant harm is possible by the simple laws of probability, even in low risk conditions.