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Implications of the junior doctors' dispute


Implications of the junior doctors' dispute

Strike off

As I write, the junior doctors’ strike has been called off once but still looks likely. One of the features of the dispute has been the threat by the Department of Health to impose a new contract paving the way for seven-day working in the absence of agreement between the two sides. Pharmacy has been in the same position itself and I recall that settlements have been imposed in the dim and distant past. I also recall that there has been discussion within pharmacy representative bodies about contractors withdrawing their labour. But these discussions did not come to anything as it was always reckoned that the multiples would never go along with such a move. Incidentally, I see that the Pharmaceutical Journal (November, 2015) had something to say on the doctors’ dispute and went so far as to urge solidarity with them. In an editorial, the PJ claims that junior doctors are not just fighting for themselves “but for all those who work for the NHS”.

I don’t know how it has worked that out. No reference is given for the assertion. I don’t read of any of the pharmacy bodies expressing a view.

What struck me though, is that, not for the first time, the PJ has managed to discuss the issue without any reference to the doctors’ code of practice, which is intended to regulate medics’ behaviour. This is something that the PJ, the newly self-proclaimed professional journal, should be expected to take into account. Ironically, in its old “trade magazine” days it would have done.

One of the features of the current dispute is the way that the British Medical Association is now generally described in the daily press as a trade union. The BMA is a bit more than that, though. It is a major publisher of highly respected, peer-reviewed journals. One such is the BMJ, which, in its November 24 issue, published a paper that suggested maternity care was worse over the weekend compared with the rest of the week. This can’t have done the BMA in its trade union mode any good. It reminds me of the discomfort caused to the late Alan Smith when the PJ published monthly data showing pharmacy numbers increasing when he, as chief executive of PSNC, was trying to argue that pharmacy was facing hard times.

Why not complain?

Because of industrial unrest among junior doctors, many operations remained cancelled and outpatient appointments not honoured. If I were one of the patients whose health had been compromised because of this – as would undoubtedly have been the case – I would consider putting in a complaint to the General Medical Council. Then I would find out if the doctors’ ethical code, which requires medics to put the interests of patients first, was meaningful or just a load of waffle.

Long life

I read that trials are to take place to find out whether metformin can extend life in humans. The diabetes drug has already been found to extend life in animals; the issue is whether it can do the same for us. Speculation is that we could live to be 120. I don’t know what that would do for retirement age, but it could only go up. So we could be thoroughly worn out before we reached the magic figure. Still, someone has got to optimise the use of the drug so that it has the desired effect. Another role for us?

And a long time ago

Many decades ago, a young PJ reporter made a call to the then Labour MP Tony Benn asking him why he was suggesting that the pharmacy profession should be deskilled (he thought dispenser level qualification was all that was needed). When he answered the phone, Mr Benn could be heard urging his children to be quiet so that he could hear his caller. Now one of the children (Hilary Benn) is the Shadow Foreign Secretary. The PJ reporter’s progress has not been so noteworthy.

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