Many have been dismayed that the organisations that represent doctors – with the honourable exception of the RCGP – put up such a weak, restricted defence against the Health and Social Care Act (HSCA).
Those of us in MPU – the doctors and medical students section of the union, Unite – tried hard to push the GPC, BMA and the royal colleges into something resembling a campaign to involve and alert the profession and general public of the mammoth, detrimental changes to the NHS that were being hammered through parliament without any democratic mandate. I am a member of GPC as MPU rep and along with others tried time and again to warn GPC of what the Bill meant to GPs and to our patients. But the ‘keep our powder dry’ leadership failed to adequately warn the profession how CCGs were a mere fig leaf for the privatisation of the NHS, to absorb blame for a worsening NHS and would prove impotent in their much vaunted role, now revealed by early experience as only too true.
In south-east London, for example, the CCGs have been totally ignored and bypassed in the top-down restructuring and closure plans of the special administrator. The CCGs’ opposition to the closure of the new A&E at Lewisham hospital has been dismissed in a totally brutal fashion. A 50,000 strong petition has similarly been tossed aside - so much for ‘No decision about me without me’ trumpeted by government publicity.
The MPU is small in number when compared with the other organisations representing doctors but has a proud record of successfully highlighting issues that others have preferred to ignore. It has often been instrumental in changing or initiating policy within the other organisations in which MPU members are prominent. Doctors are in the unusual position of being able to be a member of the BMA – a trade union not affiliated to the TUC and MPU – a trade union which is.
Examples of these MPU-inspired, ‘hidden’ issues include: exposing the impossibly long hours that junior doctors worked prior to the European Work Directive; the exploitation of so-called non-consultant grade doctors, and more recently; the poor level of services available to asylum seekers in the community and in detention centres – MPU members were instrumental in setting up Medical Justice an organisation that supports these groups, and; raising again the difficulties of working with deprived populations with inadequate resource in spite of the growing evidence base linking deprivation with poor health.
Having a ‘proud history’ is not enough. It became apparent during the campaign against the HSCA that MPU members and supporters were unsuccessful in moving the BMA into a more robust position, or ensuring that BMA leaders carried out their council’s request for a public campaign; we are small yet have influence – larger in numbers we could be an even more effective ‘alternative voice for doctors’.
The MPU is growing. We have a close relationship with the National Association of Sessional GPs (NASGP), forged because sessional GPs felt marginalised within the BMA structures and because of the inherent conflict of interest of the same organisation representing employers (GP partners) and employees (salaried and locum GPs). Threats to salaried GPs grow with every private take-over of GP services. MPU members are prominent in campaigns against the effects of the Act or cuts and closures at local and national levels. MPU, and its parent Unite, works with Keep Our NHS Public, 38 Degrees and other groups with influence; Unite has its own campaign to defend the NHS and to help the Labour Party re-establish its bona fides towards the NHS in time for the general election.
Action now includes a large conference on 2 March in London: NHS 'Reforms' – building a radical alternative for doctors. Why not consider attending? (Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org). Speakers include Professors Allyson Pollock and Aneez Esmail both true radicals helping to re-build the radical voice of doctors.
- Dr Ron Singer is the president of the MPU.