Friday, 2 October 2015

Support Your Striking Doctors

Doctors eh? Public school rowdies who spend most of their time fiddling with their bow ties, groping nurses or playing golf. Overpaid, constantly skiving off to do private work, probably Freemasons, rude, uncaring gits.

I should know - my parents are doctors. Some of the stereotypes are true: they have the social skills of a truculent whelk.

Actually, they largely aren't. Last time I spent much time with unrelated doctors they fulfilled another stereotype entirely: they looked like teenagers, which tells you how old I am. More specifically, they looked like well-paid teenagers who'd just caught a taxi from an indie all-nighter to their surgical round. Directional haircuts, pointy shoes, floaty dresses and manicured facial hair (not all on the same person).

Clothes aside, they looked like they'd just tumbled out of a nightclub because they were fashionably dishevelled, by which I mean they looked exhausted, not self-medicated at all. That would never happen. It wasn't even what's privately known as Death Week. They were junior doctors: the skutters of the medical profession. They've got their degrees but need lots and lots of hands on experience with real live (for now) bodies to translate theory into practice. They work insanely long hours on a schedule that would drive the rest of us mad, in conditions that a crane operator or lorry driver wouldn't be permitted for safety reasons, and they don't get paid nearly as much as you might think. Those bow ties and Rolls-Royces come much later.

They do get some extra payment for unsocial hours, outside 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. Monday to Friday, seeing as that's when most of us like to sleep or see our friends and families or just stare vacantly into space without anybody's life depending on us. But now the Secretary of State for Privatising Health (a devotee of homeopathy by the way) has decided that 'normal' hours are 7 a.m. until 10 p.m., Monday to Saturday. A basic pay rise is mooted but there are no details. Lots of doctors doing emergency work will probably get a bit poorer, or more likely follow the massive crowd of medics packing flights to Australia. Lots more just won't go to medical school. Why spend every night with your arm up somebody's bottom for an eventual middle-class salary when you have the grades to go into banking and gamble with everybody's pension for a shedload of cash and no responsibility at all. You still get access to high quality drugs after all.

The juniors may strike soon – not emergency care, but routine activity, for very short periods. I know it's hard to generate much sympathy for a gang which is paid very well by national standards, has never supported the rest of the union movement and has a hotline to those in power (no Health Minister wants an appendectomy from a displeased doctor) but we need to understand that in the new economy, doctors, legal aid lawyers and a whole host of groups who used to think that they were the bourgeoisie and thus rising with the rentier class are actually all workers now. Their jobs – like those of educators and a whole host of others – are being mechanised, downgraded, sold off and casualised by a class obsessed by profit and a reductively-defined notion of efficiency. Like it or not, doctors are becoming as disposable and subject to the whims of the market as factory line workers. Their wages and conditions are to be degraded as much as humanly possible and their professional objections will be dismissed as special pleading. I certainly don't want a tired doctor on a reduced salary wondering how to pay off her £100,000+ student debts without going private or fleeing the country.

We need to support the doctors because if it hasn't already been you, it will be your turn next.

No comments: