Striking in the NHS: are there lasting consequences?

As a medical student during the junior doctor strikes I was submerged in an attitude of anger, frustration and disappointment for much of my training. I worry that such an atmosphere, present as such a pivotal time in a young person’s education, will result in a generation of junior doctors filled with resentment, or worse, apathy. Why should I work in a system that is apparently ‘on the brink of collapse’ where doctors feel the need to strike in an atmosphere of negativity? There are other healthcare systems around the world without such problems and therein lies the dark, unspoken truth: maybe I would have a better life elsewhere?

A study published in BMJ Open found that during the four periods of junior doctor strikes there were fewer hospital admissions, fewer admissions to A+E and a spike in cancellations. Although a large number of junior doctors did undertake active striking there were more passive shows of opposition from doctors in all levels of training. Applications for a certificate of current professional status from the GMC increased by 1000% on the day the new contracts came into force in what was described by the GMC as an indirect show of opposition.

I think we get so caught up in pride for the NHS that we forget the danger of what a strike represents and the message that striking sends, particularly to young medical students. If a student does well in medical school he/she has gained the right to decide on the future they want – so should students trained in this country work in the NHS simply because that is the most convenient path?

I have decided to take up a residency post in North America and part of that decision is that I want the best future I can have, not simply the most convenient. Some may say I show youthful naivety and that the grass is always greener but therein lies the problem; our junior doctor and students are youthful and that pseudo childhood innocence is something that should be celebrated in a system that (at the very least) doesn’t need to resort to something as toxic as a strike. When medical students, that aren’t even working yet, are being encouraged by doctors to stand on the street corner protesting against their own government instead of looking after patients or studying, then something is wrong and I would rather not be a part of it.

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