Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has been accused of “fanning the flames” of the junior doctors’ dispute, despite evidence emerging this week that the British Medical Association (BMA) misled their members in the push for strike action.
Trade publication the Health Service Journal on Thursday published details of more than 450,000 leaked Whatsapp messages that appeared to suggest the BMA's Junior Doctors Committee hoped to drag out the dispute for 16-18 months.
Contrary to public claims around public safety and doctor welfare, the messages make clear that pay is the “only real red line” in negotiations.
But speaking to Jake Yapp and Ash, Shaun Lintern, patient safety correspondent for the Health Service Journal, said the government had to accept its share of responsibility for the fallout.
“Anyone who has followed this dispute would come to the conclusion that Jeremy Hunt has absolutely failed to enhance himself,” Lintern said.
“What he did do is unnecessarily inflame thousands of doctors with talk of seven-day services and inaccurate use of mortality statistics.
“He fanned the flames of this dispute and really angered doctors. The government need to recognise that they played a major part in this.”
The revelations have come just weeks before 40,000 junior doctors are due to vote on a deal to end industrial action and adopt new working practices.
“More than 120,000 patients were inconvenienced by strikes over 10 days, and thousands of junior doctors were led to the picket line by their leadership when they thought the government weren’t prepared to negotiate,” Lintern said.
“But in fact it was their own leadership.
“There is a question over whether this dispute could have been settled earlier. It shows a real naivety on behalf of the BMA leadership.”
Junior doctor Tom Morris agreed, telling talkRADIO: “To hear the people representing us talking in such a way is deeply disappointing.
“It started about pay, but as the first contract was brought out there were so many flaws in the plan in terms of safeguarding patient safety and doctors’ welfare in terms of tiredness.
“This new [offer] is a potential answer to the problem. What is sad is that we’ve finally got to this point, and this [news] has come out. I find it deeply saddening.”
In a statement, the BMA said: “Private discussions should not be mistaken for the agreed strategy of the BMA Junior Doctors Committee, which was communicated publicly."