The NHS, a lesson in politics, part V

NHS a lesson in politics, part V:

First my dear doctors I say this: calm down.

The world hasn’t ended, what your are hearing is the sound of a gun being cocked. Ideally said metaphorical gun is currently being aimed squarely at the Government’s policy unit. However there are some caveats that I feel need to be addressed. (I’ll go into these later, I’ll need BMA members to raise them through the appropriate channels)

Some concerns:

There is fear amongst many that a three day strike is not powerful enough. A long strike is not your goal. Your goal is a Safe, Equitable and Comprehensive healthcare system (which includes community care).

Like all conflicts there are three acts: escalation, phallic jousting & peace. A strike is the opening salvo in second act. You need to unzip and flop it about most vigorously, so that everyone knows what is at stake.

Its you against the world, sorta

No one is going to make good headlines for you.

You need to make allies, you need to hire PR professionals, you need a short simple message, and you need to ram it down the throat of everyone (no, this is not a call for another fucking social media campaign)

You need to take out a full page advert in the Telegraph with the words:

Dear Mr Hunt
We’d love to negotiate, but your preconditions are a throwback to the bad old days
However for the good of the nation, we’d like to invite you for tea and a chat 1pm, Tavistock Sq 5th December
Leave the preconditions, bring some pastries.

Why is this good? Because its a public olive branch. The current narrative is that the BMA is walking away. This upends that notion. The BMA is reaching out, we want a chat, but you can’t put silly preconditions in the way. If Mr Hunt refuses its because he is being inflexible.

You and I know that Hunt is being unreasonable, the public don’t. They distrust him because he’s a slippery tory minister, not because of anything he’s actually done. You need to demonstrate to the public at large that he is the cause of the NHS failing. He is the reason that your chances of getting passable care are dropping by the day.

Having the Mirror, Express, Indy and Grauniad onside is good, but the real people that matter read the Times, Sun, FT and Telegraph. You need to phrase the problem in terms that they will understand:

  • Private care costs lots
  • Private care will cost more than your current taxes
  • Private care is dangerous
  • Private care is staffed by foreign doctors
  • Private care will make Angela Merkel the new Queen of england
  • Private care is unbritish

Yes they are crass, yes I am vaguely foreign, but frankly I don’t want to needlessly die a painful death at 45 because I couldn’t afford to get treated for bollock cancer.

You will not win by playing a “positive game”, just look at Corbyn. He’s a nice bloke, playing nice politics, and is roundly ignored by everyone that votes. He and the labour party have sailed into irrelevance.

Making allies

You need friends outside of your bubble. You need committed Tories, YooKippers, Sun readers, loony lefties, you need all of these people onside. Go out and talk to them. Yes its hard, but so is quitting the NHS because you are to tired to work anymore.

You’ve won social media, now win real people.

Local press, Local councillors, Local MPs, National organisations, all of these need to be befriended. Organise, consult, approach.

The Armed forces are about to have a paycut

Whats a more powerful ally than the army, navy and RAF? Unlike the NHS, the armed forces have been lionised by the redtops. You can’t mudsling a soldier, because that is unpatriotic. Being unpatriotic is a sin worthy of years in the penal colonies

They too are about to face an end to automatic pay progression.

So, go out and find your self a major. Even better find someone who is a doctor and has served in an active war theatre. “I fought to defend this country. That country includes the Armed forces and the NHS, if they are both cut, what was the point?” Put that on a full page ad, and you’ve won.

Talking to the media:

When you talk to the media, you cannot use your “breaking bad news” skills you so diligently learnt for your OSCEs. You have 60 words and 15 seconds to make a point.

This is why Roshana Mehdian is so effective (and why I think she should be your spokes person/goto talking head) She calmly and with most exquisite clarity, demolishes stupidity. She makes it plain that the person spouting it is a colossal bellend and should be lobotomised for the good of humanity. All without annoying the populous. This is a rare skill that needs to be studied and synthesised by you, and the BMA’s media team.

More importantly whilst doing all this, she puts the relevant point across in 3 sentences or less. This allows the points she’s raising to survive a harsh edit. She understands either consciously or unconsciously that we live in a world of sound bites.

You are about to encounter a shitstorm

You’d best have a good PR team to counter. This is the most concerning part. There seems to be an inability for the BMA to reach a wide audience directly. When Johann is asked for a talking head opinion it is not sufficiently powerful or brief enough to make any impact as a soundbite in the 6/10 o’clock news.

He is perfectly able to write to the doctors, I’ve read his missives, they are compelling. However he needs a strong media team to coach and brief him so that he is able to apply that message to the wider populous. He needs some practice in dealing with hostile questioning, he needs support. Its not fair to expect him to just instantly adapt from being a caring sensitive doctor, to be a concise media communicator on his own.

Those of you in the BMA please pass this on to your local rep.


Heads up chaps and ladychaps. You are the NHS, never apologise for your dedication.

I will share with you what Steve, my man on the street said to me: “I’m with the doctors, the way they’ve been treated by the government is terrible. They should strike, I’ll back them 1000%”. Bear in mind, he’s not into politics, he makes his money flogging the Big Issue, so he knows a thing or two about hard work. If your message reaches him, you know there is hope.

The public understand, deep down they know you are right. Do what your always do, go out and heal the nation.

Update: 13th November 2015 15:15

This is how you talk to the public: