Why the Telegraph is WRONG to scare our doctors, by LU RAHMAN

Doctors on the march: unafraid of Jeremy Hunt, unafraid of techno-scares!

telegraph mast2THE Daily Telegraph’s executive political editor, James Kirkup, is a journalist of standing and repute but I thought I was reading the Daily Mail when I saw his latest offering: ‘Strike all you like, doctors’ ran the headline. ‘Technology will soon take away your power’

My second thought was more compassionate than he deserved: Let’s hope he doesn’t get ill any time soon!

Using words like ‘militancy’ and phrases such as “doctors have been getting away with self-serving hypocrisy since the NHS was created and Nye Bevan had to ‘stuff their mouths with gold’ to win their cooperation” it’s clear where Kirkup is coming from.

He states that “the NHS depends on doctors and, as a result, has been paying them more and more to do less and less.” I am sure that many a doctor, having trained and studied for several years (and a lot longer and harder than this highly paid media critic) would like to wrap their stethoscopes around Mr Kirkup’s neck.

Pay rises regularly hit the headlines and we can all find arguments for and against, generally depending on how we feel about the work group, union or individual involved. Personally, I don’t object to highly-trained medical professionals with my life in their care receiving financial remuneration for the job they do and the hours they work.

I DO have an issue with a half-baked article using digital health to attack those it’s designed to help. Yes, new technologies will make the life of a doctor easier and more efficient. What’s wrong with that?

Not content with insulting the dedication of doctors in the NHS, Kirkup goes on to suggest that they should be worried about a “far greater threat to their bargaining power . . . wearable technology and smartphones, to be precise”. Using the latest bit of consumer fitness kit, the FitBit, as an example he claims that “technology will change fundamentally the way we manage and maintain our health”. Now that I DO agree with; but it’s NOT going to happen with the FitBit.

The digital health sector holds the power to change the way we are treated, the way doctors work and the way we receive and monitor our health. But that doesn’t mean we are on the verge of wiping out highly-skilled and dedicated healthcare professionals.

Yes, we will be able to access our own records, receive a GP consultation via Skype or smartphone, be sent a prescription on email and monitor long-term health conditions via wearable medical devices. But at what point does that mean we can do away with the medical knowledge and expertise that comes from a doctor?

Captain Kirkup clearly has a good imagination. Maybe a career in science fiction writing might be worth considering?

It’s clear that Kirkup’s main aim is to slate the NHS. It’s unclear why he’s using the argument that the latest technology, designed to improve the healthcare sector and make it more efficient for both workers and patients, heralds the end for doctors.

Not only is that belittling but it shows very little insight into the way digital health works, its potential and benefits for us all. Yes, even you, Mr Kirkup.

In case he hasn’t noticed we’ve successfully embraced technology in the majority of professions without wiping out the need for all manner of occupations. The advent of the computer didn’t spell the end for journalists (although, given the quality of Kirkup’s article, I’m guessing many a junior doctor would welcome that outcome). The cars we drive, the televisions we watch, the way we access information, organise our time and communicate have all been improved by technology.

Healthcare is about to experience this same benefit. But to claim that doctors should fear for their jobs because we have digital health devices that will aid diagnosis and treatment is childish to say the least.

Last time I looked we were a civilised society interested in progression. We all want to live longer or, as Kirkup says, become “collectively older and fatter” (speak for yourself on the last point, James!) and digital health technology is a way that can happen.

Progression allows the development of new drugs or the on-going research into combating disease. We’ve moved on since the days of trepanning and iron lungs. Digital health is another step forward. According to Cancer Research UK deaths from childhood cancer have dropped by 24 per cent in the last ten years – just one example of improvement in NHS success rates.

Yes, it’s due to new drug development. However, the role of specialist medical research – doctors working in the NHS – into diseases such as childhood leukaemia has had a crucial and significant hand in survival rates.

Technology has given us equipment we now take for granted: before 1970, for example, the CAT scan was unheard of. We should embrace the way digital discoveries are enabling us to lead longer and healthier lives instead of using them as an attempt to frighten striking junior doctors (although I’m sure they’re made of stronger stuff than to let Kirkup’s article give them the willies).

According to Kirkup, twenty-first century medicine will be “bad for the doctors, good for the rest of us”. He’s clearly missing the point. Twenty-first century medical science will benefit both camps.

I’m not sure where he’s getting his information but digital tools are just that: tools. We still need healthcare professionals to ensure they are put to the best use, and will for a long time yet.

“Power to the patients!” he says. Don’t get sick any time soon, James Kirkup, say I.


  1. Actually Lu (and Dave and your whole Voice of the North team), love your work totally but, specifically, I do hope that Capt. Kirkup, who certainly did get picked on at his Public School (well, I would have picked on him!) gets sick soon, not badly but maybe the V and the D at the same time and needs to access his clearly pathetic NHS, whom in the absence of technological advances will have to resort to physical investigation. Enjoy CAPT, you deserve it Go you Junior Doctors!!


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