So thousands of junior doctors have downed tools again this week, causing colossal disruption to our public hospitals across the country. The unionised medics with the Resident Doctors Association. This is their fifth strike, and the longest on record, spanning the entire week.
You can understand why the Health Minister is starting to lose patience with this union. As much as we admire and depend on front-line health professionals, are they also starting to exhaust public goodwill? Patients’ patience is being tested to the hilt.
This intractable dispute is centred around who should have the final say over junior doctors working arrangements – the union or the DHBs.
The DHBs aren’t happy with the unions current power of veto over decisions made by local medical teams, and want the DHB chief executive to have the final say. The RDA has interpreted this as a declaration of war.
But unlike this union, I am intrigued that the breakaway junior doctors union, Speciality Trainees or Stonz, has seen its membership flourish, after it struck a deal with the DHBs. Their pay rates and roster arrangements have been struck in accordance with the guidelines of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons.
Those guidelines do allow junior doctors to work twelve consecutive days, not the ten that the RDA is defending to the death.
And Stonz says the RDA’s rostering demands are simply too inflexible, too intractable, and undermine on the job training.
Whoever you choose to believe, a five day strike solves nothing. It gets us nowhere, other than accentuating waiting times for elective surgery for thousands of Kiwis.
Next week, the union and the DHBs will convene for extended facilitation with the Employment Relations Authority. It’s set down for five days.
Even though their recommendations will be non-binding, surely they should be treated by both sides as the final word. The judgement. And their recommendations should be honoured, whatever way it goes.
It is time to bring this insanely long debilitating impasse to an end. Too many lives have been disrupted, for too long.