What Lies Beneath?

Do you sometimes wonder what is really going on? As the furore around the planned 5-day strikes by junior doctors unfolds, with all the clamour and the noise, the positioning, the power plays, the arguments and the counter-arguments, I wonder where is the truth amidst the madness? How have we reached a stage in which the government and an army of medics, surgeons and psychiatrists are at such loggerheads? What lies beneath all of this?

 

Theresa May, our Prime Minister tell us that “doctors have never had it so good” – I wonder when she last shadowed a Senior Registrar for Acute Medicine on a Friday night in an understaffed hospital? Jeremy Hunt tells us that he is a modern day Aneurin Bevan (I wonder what AB would think of that?!), whilst his shadow counter-part, Diane Abbott retorts that this is a ridiculous suggestion. The PM and the Secretary of State for Health both agree that the junior doctors are playing politics, something the other side refutes, but all agree that this is a disaster and patients lives may well be put at risk. The right wing press tell us it is all about pay and that the doctors are being greedy, whilst the left wing press tell us it is all about an underlying agenda to privatise the NHS. The Junior Doctors admit that some of this is about pay (who would want a significant pay cut for working long and unsociable hours?) but that it is more about resisting a policy to deliver a 24/7, 7/7 NHS, which they believe to be unaffordable and unstaffable due to shortages in funding and recruitment. Senior colleagues appear to be split down the middle in terms of support for the strikes, patient groups are understandably concerned and yet a solution does not appear to be forthcoming.

 

Shouting, anger, fighting, noise, name-calling, power-plays, hate and hollering. So, who will seek the welfare of the people and the nation? Who will make for peace? Both sides tell us this is what they are doing and this is why they stand their ground. The government apparently want to deliver the same standard of service throughout the 7 day week. The Junior Doctors say they are the ones really standing up for the people by resisting that which is unsafe and unfair.

 

So, let us learn from the peacemakers to find a way through. In apartheid South Africa, peace was not reached through hate and vitriol. It took deep courage from men and women to expose lies, to speak truth to power, but most importantly to tell their stories. It was not about the one man, Nelson Mandela, but the many together waking up to an alternative future that was fairer for everybody. In the battle for civil rights in the USA, a nation was awakened to the reality of injustice within its own borders. The story of one woman, Rosa Parks, who refused to be humiliated on a bus became a people movement as numerous as the stars, shining together for an altogether different day. In Rwanda, after the appalling genocide, those who lost everything, found a voice to communicate to their very oppressors, those who had raped and murdered their own families, not only their story, but forgiveness for the atrocities caused and found a way through to a new future. If we want peace and a better future for everybody, then we need to face up to our reality, be willing to really listen and then find that together we can embrace a new future.

 

We have an apartheid of globalisation and free market capitalism across the entire world. Every day, the gap between the rich and the poor is widened. Our entire economic system, founded on the oppression of Empire through expansion (via military violence), the creation of debt (through an errant banking system) and the rule of law (held in place by the state of the exception) is no longer fit for purpose. We see it in the plight of refugees stuck between war and barbed wire fences in a land they cannot call their own. We see it in the disproportionate imprisonment of Black American males in the USA. We see it in the vile island detention centres of Australia. We see it in the slums of New Delhi, the townships of sub-Saharan Africa and the Favelas of South America – in the eyes of children dying from such ridiculous things as diarrhoea and starvation. We encounter it in the streets of Athens and the public squares of Madrid. And yes, we find it in the midst of our NHS and social care system. Our world as we have known it is broken and no matter how much sticky tape or wrapping paper we apply, the centre simply cannot hold. The core is unstable. Everything is shaking. We must have the courage to let go of what we have known and embrace an altogether different future, a future that is fairer for everybody, where things don’t simply trickle down to the poorest, but in which the balances are re-set.

 

We have become slaves of the ‘free market’, fodder of the beast that requires ever more of us. What lies underneath the row over Junior Doctor pay and the forthcoming strikes is a great gaping hole that scares the hell out of many of us. Oh, we can sling mud until the cows come home, but it’s not going to get us anywhere. Top down, pyramidal, heroic leadership that stays its course and demands it’s own way is simply not going to cut the mustard. We must have some brave and difficult conversations about the detrimental effects of making policy from the safety of ivory towers, and learn to really listen to the stories of those affected. We have so much to learn from the Leeds Poverty Truth Challenge, the Homeless Charter in Manchester, the Community Conversations in Morecambe Bay, the Cities of Refuge initiative, the Civil Rights movements, the Mediation work done in Rwanda…..we don’t have the answers right now. The problems facing the NHS are fare more complex than trying to ensure an undeliverable manifesto promise is outworked. We need humility on all sides, collaboration and partnership.

 

It goes deeper than people right across the UK needing to manage their own health and wellbeing more effectively. It is more complex than needing to recognise where there is waste and dealing with it. It isn’t just as straight forward as needing to talk about chronic under-funding and under-recruitment. We face an existential crisis, an ontological question about the future of humanity together. Resting back onto familiar ways of operating or antiquated leadership styles will simply not work for us any more. The black hole we face is either a death or the opportunity for re-birth. A squeeze that will force us into something new. We can’t keep dancing around it forever. We must take the plunge, accept that there is no going back and see what new creation we might just co-create with Love on the other side. Don’t be afraid…….there is light at the other end of the tunnel.

 

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The Junior Doctors And Lady Godiva

A few months ago I wrote a blog suggesting the right approach for the junior doctors was one of subversion and submission. But I think I was wrong. It’s not that I’ve changed my mind on the power of subversion and submission, it’s just that this entire spectacle surrounding the junior doctors, the ‘7 day NHS’, the strikes and the media reporting there of actually affects us all at a profound level.

 

bmalogo14This situation exposes something far deeper than just an argument between Jeremy Hunt and the BMA and is far more important than discovering who has the strongest will power. Infact, the BMA have made a major error in targeting Jeremy Hunt so vindictively, because in the final analysis, this isn’t about Hunt at all. Jeremy Hunt can be replaced in a moment, and is likely to be succeeded by a far more robust Jeremy Hunt nhsBoris Johnson, who will simply pound his fist more visciously. To make Hunt the scape goat narrows this debate to something far too insignificant and actually strengthens the government’s ability to do exactly as they please.

 

Sadly, however, all this proves is how defunct our current system of government has always been. What the government really want is a discussion about how we can improve patient access across the weekend timeframe. However, what they did was to decide this is necessary and went ahead to try to fix what is incredibly complex. There was no discssion, no real engagement, no conversation, no asking of the deep questions. Just because we want something, doesn’t mean we can have it! Just because we think something is a good idea, doesn’t mean everyone else will agree! The entire process of enagement and change management is not understood at all. In the first8790 place, the goverment could instead have said to all the hospital trusts across the country what their hopes and intentions were and then waited to see if this was workable, in what way and how much it would cost. But you cannot simply act like Pharoah and expect the brick makers to make ever more bricks with less and less resource available – otherwise, you face an exodus!

 

What this entire debacle demonstrates is just how far free market capitalism has gone in its use of people as biopower to drive the system. The junior doctors of the NHS are nothing more than fodder to make the machine run. It doesn’t matter at all to the government that their lovely idea of a ‘7 day NHS’ is both unaffordable (due to chronic underinvestment in the health service) and unstaffable (due to a combination of under-training of staff across the board, and free market forces which work against people remaining in the UK). What this exposes in its most blatant form, is the chronic and shocking abuse of power, because of the very structures we have in place and the foundations upon which our society is built – namely violence, debt and control. And so, we see the human being reduced to what Hardt and Negri call ‘naked life’.

 

_86375024_86375023The system, to which we must all bow doesn’t care for the needs of the people who work within it. It will force them to submit. Why should doctors (many of whom work for less than the minimum wage, when on call) be allowed time to rest at weekends? Why can’t everybody have routine care through the weekend, just as from monday to friday (even though most of our top clinicians think we need better emergency care and not routine access)? Surely our economy needs this kind of health service? And actually, whilst we’re on it, isn’t it a waste of time, allowing teachers to have weekends off as well? Don’t we need our children to work harder, or at least be given some sort of babysitting service, so we can get more for our pound of flesh from their parents? If we are to have a 24/7 health service, why not a 24/7 education service? Our shops are already open practically 24/7. In this commercial world – shouldn’t everything else follow suit? No, no and NO!!

 

SolidarityThis is why we need a revolution of solidarity and resistance. We need a people movement who will stand together and be brave enough to say that there is a different way to see the world and a new way to live within it. Our naked life itself, although currently abused, can become for us our greatest power. Our naked life can expose the truth of just how abusive our systems have become. Our naked life, when combined with the indestructable force of kenotic love, becomes the very agent of change that we need.

 

So, what next for the junior doctors? Should they strike next week, including for emergency care? Are they ready for the media (who have lost the art of journalism) to turn against them? Are they ready for the storm that will ensue? Well, lives have already very sadly been lost. How many more can stand under the strain? What if the public turn against their heros?

 

It is time for something deeper to take place. It is time for solidarity. It is time for those of us in senior positions to cover shifts and show our unreserved support. It is time for the public, not just teachers, but across the board, to stand with the juniors. As my friend, Julie Tomlin showed me, we have to learn from the arab spring that one march alone will not do it. March after march after march may be needed. And singing too!! Let songs be heard on the streets! And to Lady-Godiva_DSC_9412really demonstrate the power of naked life……how about naked marches?!! (I grew up in Coventry, and so the story of Lady Godiva is in my blood – nakedness overcame oppression once before!). Or maybe the staff of the NHS should all turn up to work with no clothes on?!! How about people stripping off at least to their underwear to expose both the fragility  and the power of naked life?!

 

There is a different way for humanity. We can free ourselves from the oppressive yolk that seeks to divide and rule us. Perhaps, the Junior Doctors could be more creative and expose the deep structures of oppression that lie beneath the calls for this ‘7 day NHS’? Now is the time for subversion, for exposing just how unjust our systems are. But subversion alone will not suffice. We need solidarity and resistance. So, who will stand and march with the Junior Doctors (naked if need be?!) for an altogether different future?

 

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Doctors Must Unite Together For the Rising Generation

Tweet This week the health secretary, Jeremy hunt, tweeted this: “Moderate doctors must defeat the militants”. Here is a man I truly admire speaking some (slightly rude) truth to power. Sir Sam Everington knows a thing or two about the power of protest. Share This: