From nucleus - January 2016 - News Review: Junior Doctors' Dispute [p04-05]
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Following an acrimonious dispute between the UK government and junior doctors over a proposed new contract, the British Medical Association (BMA) balloted junior doctor members on strike action. 98% voted in favour of full strike action, on a turnout of more than 76%. At the last minute, the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt agreed to hold talks through ACAS (a mediation service). This led to the postponement of action in December 2015. Action is still possible in January 2016 if agreement is not reached.
Many Christian doctors have found it difficult to decide what to do. There was a wide-ranging discussion at the November 2015 CMF Junior Doctors' Conference.
Here we present several perspectives on the dispute from CMF members. Matt Lillicrap is a former CMF Staffworker and junior doctor in care of the elderly, now studying at Oak Hill Bible College. Melody Redman is an FY2 doctor in northern England, who has been involved in the BMA since her student days. John Greenall is CMF's Head of Student Ministries and a paediatric junior doctor. Links to the full versions are available at the bottom of each column - John's blog in particular has attracted considerable comment.
In 1 Peter 2 we read of some Christian slaves who were suffering despite doing good. Peter speaks to them, not because he approved of their situation but because they needed to know how to live in it. Here's what he said:
Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. (1 Peter 2:18)
How can Peter expect these poor slaves to live like this? Here's his reason:
To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. (1 Peter 2:21)
These slaves had a different master. A master who enacted the supreme example of unjust suffering, offering no retaliation (1 Peter 2:23). Why? So that these slaves could be called to follow him. Jesus' unjust suffering on our behalf is the very reason he can call us to imitate him by enduring unjust suffering ourselves. And the real punch is in how he did it:
He entrusted himself to him who judges justly(1 Peter 2:23b)
He doesn't call harshly treated slaves - even unfairly treated employees - to simply endure, but to hope in the final vindication of Christian believers. This is the reason Christians can behave in this radical way, and Peter consistently calls us to point to it - 'the hope' that we have (1 Peter 3:15-16). At this moment of highly charged emotions the world around you needs, not your joining a strike, but your pointing to the Lord Jesus, your only possible source of hope amidst the pressures of medicine in 2015 and beyond.
It is a privilege to work in publicly-funded, publicly-provided healthcare. Does that mean it's not okay to strike? Hold that thought...
Safeguards to prevent junior doctors working dangerously long hours: gone. Compensation for unsociable hours: gone. More importantly, as a result, any incentive to stop employers making us work later evenings and more Saturdays: gone (which fits in nicely with the move to increase elective procedures over weekends - medics all know the NHS is already 24/7 for emergency care). This is the contract the government has threatened to impose.
With so much gone, what will be added? More exhaustion from too many hours beyond the rota, as the financial penalty for trusts has been removed. More mistakes. More weeknight meetings/fellowship missed, less time spent being parents, being friends, being there for those who need us, and less able to meet with those who support us. From an NHS user's perspective, do you want your mum being met in A&E by a dissatisfied, overworked and undervalued junior doctor? Junior doctors already have a high risk of burnout. (1)
Having been involved with the BMA, I know that the battle has already been long. Every avenue has been pursued. Along with many other colleagues, I've kept up to date with the issues, written to my MP, written for the newspaper, spoken on the radio and TV, and taken part in protest marching. So, I ask you, can we afford not to strike?
Should Christian medics strike? I believe that we need to do all we can to persuade our employers (the government in our case) to see sense and be just. However, history tells us that employers can be unjust, and the Bible has a lot to say about injustice. But the Bible is not explicit about strike action and leaves it open for individuals to decide in good conscience where they stand, having considered the evidence and the potential pitfalls beforehand. Having said that, unlike the Tube drivers who seem to strike time and again, I believe there is a line at which we should stop 'fighting'. Where that line is will depend on our conscience before God after much prayer and having considered all the relevant issues.
We need to respond compassionately to our colleagues who may well be in turmoil about their futures. We have a tremendous opportunity to speak of the security we have in Christ, that even when all is stripped away we can still be supremely satisfied in Jesus. Medical students, you have an increased opportunity to trust God for your future in uncertain times, knowing that he is in control of your futures. Juniors, pray for each other — especially if you're struggling with how to respond. Keep meeting together, praying that Christian doctors would stand at this difficult time and speak out for the vulnerable and the needy to preserve an NHS which can deliver high quality care to those who need it the most.