With the debacle of the junior doctors continuing, the Tories are desperately trying to spin the dispute as the fault of the BMA rather than the terrible negotiation tactics of Jeremy Hunt. However the newest problem with NHS staff is nothing to do with Jeremy Hunt, but is everything to do with another Tory policy. All this latest episode illustrates is that the Tories are fundamentally inept at protecting the NHS and they need to be called out.
In an article last week, I claimed that Jeremy Hunt should resign and one of the justifications for this was that many junior doctors would consider leaving the NHS if the new contract was imposed upon them. The logic behind this criticism is that if junior doctors leave the NHS, not only will there be immediate problems with staffing levels but these doctors will not be trained up to become consultants and therefore there will be shortage of senior doctors in the future.
However this latest problem is to do with the Tories’ not understanding that all government policies are intertwined with each other. Foreign doctors have informed the BMA, who has in turn informed the UK government, that the changes to visa rules for foreign-born workers will make it more difficult to continue working in the NHS and for other doctors to be recruited into the service.
The government’s proposal is that any immigrants coming into the UK requiring a tier-2 visa, which is the visa for skilled labourers who have been offered a job, must have an annual salary of over £30,000. This is problematic as many junior doctors’ salaries do not clear this level until their third year in the profession, which would mean that overseas students studying medicine would be unable to stay in the country after they have completed their degree. It would also mean that any new doctors that had recently entered the country could see themselves not meeting this new requirement if they decided to work part-time. The decision to work part-time could be for a number of reasons, such as trying to look after children, act as a carer or do further study; what this strict restriction would do is prevent these doctors from doing anything other than working full-time jobs.
Currently around 500 foreign-born students graduate from UK medical schools every year and BMA chief Dr Mark Porter has written to Immigration Minister James Brokenshire claiming that these migration rule changes will negatively impact upon recruitment. It is worth pointing out that Home Secretary Theresa May has not decided to implement the new plans yet however the fact that the BMA are warning the government of this serious problem challenges the Tories’ narrative of the organisation being a militant trade union with contempt for the NHS.
Before the last election the tabloid press bemoaned a reported statement by then Labour leader Ed Miliband about his intention to “weaponize” the NHS in the election campaign. Now is the time for the Parliamentary Labour Party to stop complaining that none of their candidates became Labour Party leader, and to turn their anger at the Tories. The media narrative is now focussed upon multiple crises in the NHS, many of which were caused by the Tories; it is therefore the time for Labour to weaponize the fuck out of that national treasure and reaffirm voters view that the NHS is always safer in the hands of a Labour government.
At this point in time the Labour Party doesn’t have to do much investigative reporting to rattle off a list of problems in the NHS that the Tories have made worse. Everybody in the Parliamentary Labour Party should stop randomly bringing up Trident or foreign policy and should start hammering the Tories who are dismantling the NHS before our very eyes.