I’ve always considered myself lucky to work where I work. The hospital (which shall remain nameless), is relatively small and has a great team atmosphere. Everybody knows everybody, there is a fantastic reporting culture, and the hospital has been recognised in a “Trust of the Year” award this year.
I feel genuinely sad that the hospital has been caught up in the junior doctor contract dispute. No junior doctor at the hospital has a quarrel with the Trust over this; all have worked hard to minimise the impact of industrial action on patient safety and patient experience. Clinicians and managers have both been proactive in planning and learning from the strike days, and we all remain committed to ensuring that our patients have the best experience possible. Consultants have been vocal and supportive, backing their junior colleagues both in person and on social media.
However, the hospital itself has been noticeably quiet with regards to the dispute. Despite the fact that their junior doctors have been involved in four days of industrial action, they are reluctant to either support or oppose their employees. We recently had an open meeting with our (interim) Chief Executive, to ask for his support. In summary, we learned that:
- The Trust will be implementing the contract. They are unwilling to deviate from the un-agreed contract that the DoH are imposing on the junior doctor workforce.
- The Trust will not publicly support the junior doctors. They feel that they must remain politically neutral in this dispute.
- The Trust has offered advice to NHS Employers; however, the Trust is not willing to share the nature of this advice with the junior doctors, as they do not want to be quoted on social media.
Personally, I have found this to be enormously disheartening. Whilst I understand why the Trust wishes to remain outside this dispute, this is no longer a luxury that they have. The dispute has come to us. The strikes are impacting OUR patients. The contract is affecting OUR doctors. The consequences of the contract will impact OUR services.
I appreciate that the Trust has every right not to involve us in its discussions with NHS Employers; however, I am deeply concerned regarding the content of these discussions. Admitting that these are taking place, but refusing to discuss them, is causing a serious erosion of trust and goodwill towards the senior management. Even if the Trust doesn’t support the junior doctors in their current predicament, we would at least like to know this fact; we would want to know how we are seen by our employer, and whether they are happy with what is being done to their staff.
Other CEOs from other Trusts have got involved in this dispute; David Dalton (Salford Royal) led negotiations for the Government, and others have signed (and subsequently retracted) a letter of support for the new contract. Our regular Chief Executive has expressed on social media that she opposes contract imposition. The Trust must recognise that their silence on these issues will be taken as complicity, both by the DoH and by junior doctors. A head-in-the-sand approach is no longer something that we can afford. This dispute is here, is not going away, and is likely to escalate over the coming weeks and months. The best thing that the Trust can do is stop managing the “symptoms” of the industrial action, and start treating the underlying cause, before this sickness becomes incurable.
It will take bravery, and will take leadership; however, one of our “Trust Values” is courage. It’s about time we, as a Trust, put some of that courage into action.