It was hardly worth the three-mile journey from the BMA’s imposing Lutyens-designed building in Tavistock Square, when Dr Robert Laurenson crossed the threshold of the Department of Health and Social Care last month.
For 28-year-old Laurenson, co-chairman of the BMA junior doctors’ committee, barely uttered a word during the 30-minute meeting with Steve Barclay, the Health Secretary.
Instead, while Barclay spoke, Laurenson avoided eye contact, pointedly sent text messages on his phone and scribbled on Post-It notes to his colleagues. I’m told some considered him puerile and rude.
Proudly pinned to Laurenson’s jacket during that meeting was a crab badge, a symbol of his Left-wing commitment to ‘move in unison like crabs do’. The crab has become a symbol of solidarity and unity among junior doctors and ‘be a crab, not a scab’ is one of the BMA strike slogans.
Exasperated by the behaviour of Laurenson, a trainee GP in Kent, and the unwillingness of the BMA to budge on its outrageous 35 per cent pay demand, Barclay abruptly ended the meeting.
Dr Robert Laurenson, 28, (pictured) co-chairman of the BMA junior doctors’ committee, barely uttered a word during the 30-minute meeting with Steve Barclay, the Health Secretary
That did not stop Laurenson from boasting about it later on the junior doctors’ social media forum on Reddit. ‘As Mr Barclay was talking, I went to use my phone to communicate with our professional negotiator . . . and Steve lost his composure. We heard in his voice his panic: ‘Are you ok Rob?’ he asked. I explained our negotiator will do the talking.’
And yet Laurenson — who sources insist hardly engaged with Barclay — is the man who has since spent his time touring TV and radio studios criticising ministers on the grounds that they are the ones who refuse to enter talks.
There is now a growing view among some doctors that the young firebrand is out of his depth. They believe he is becoming a public relations liability.
Those doctors’ worst fears were realised when it emerged this week that Laurenson chose to go on holiday at the start of this week’s strike.
One senior Whitehall source said yesterday: ‘Some of these BMA junior doctors seem to have watched too many TV political satires like The Thick of It. They are just not grown-up negotiators. They are posturing and playing politics with people’s lives.’
The same view is reflected increasingly in clashes between Laurenson and senior doctors who oppose his militant strategy. Christopher Hammond, clinical director for radiology at Leeds Hospitals, tweeted: ‘The BMA’s stance on this is doublethink. They say: ‘We must continue to ensure patient safety.’
‘The stance that it is the employer who is responsible for ensuring patient safety is an abrogation of our collective responsibility. The employer can only assure this via its employees: us . . . the increasingly militant messaging coming from the BMA is unhelpful.’ Laurenson replied by mocking his more senior colleague as ‘Mr Bones’.
Francis Murgatroyd, a consultant cardiologist at King’s College Hospital, London, said: ‘I support action by junior docs, but ALL-OUT strike (even emergencies) . . . is unconscionable. Royal College Nurses treated genuine emergencies and kept public support: juniors may lose it.’
Doctors’ worst fears were realised when it emerged this week that Laurenson chose to go on holiday at the start of this week’s strike
If they do lose public support, it will be Laurenson who is to blame as he’s the driving force behind the unprecedented four days of strikes coming straight after a bank holiday weekend.
Laurenson says the junior doctor strikes in 2016 failed because ‘days of action were staggered and made little impact. The answer must be consecutive days of real impact’.
He underlined the point on social media earlier this year when he was asked if he supported a full strike including the withdrawal of emergency care. ‘Yes,’ he replied. His preference was ‘giving employers the legally required notice of days of action and nothing more’. He added: ‘Our preference is a full walkout.’
He’s dismissive, too, of respected bodies such as the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, founded in 1974 which brings together doctors’ professional bodies and says: ‘The strikes are not proportionate.’
In another overtly political posting on social media, Laurenson melodramatically declared: ‘The pen and paper approach of the Royal Colleges has not worked and so we must turn to the sword and shield of the union. Power in Westminster only respects Power. We find history forming a dark storm around us. We must be prepared to make our mark.’
If they do lose public support, it will be Laurenson who is to blame as he’s the driving force behind the unprecedented four days of strikes coming straight after a bank holiday weekend
Laurenson, who studied at Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, took a year out of training to work agency shifts ‘for money and wellbeing’. He is a director of Westholme Investments, a firm set up by his parents, which has more than £2 million worth of funds.
He was appointed to the position in 2013, a year after he began his medical degree, although he is not paid a salary by his family’s firm.
Before his medical training, he attended Sevenoaks School, founded in 1432, which charges up to £46,566 per year for sixth form students.
The school — motto ‘To serve God is to rule’ — promotes on its website the concepts of ‘tolerance and compassion’.
Laurenson seems to have forgotten those principles as he leads the most serious strike in the 75-year history of the NHS.