There’s something big going on with junior doctors. And you need to know about it. Tens ouf thousands of them took to the streets of the UK to march against planned new contracts put forward by Jeremy Hunt. But, even if you don’t work in healthcare, this is an issue that affects all of us. We answer the main questions – and a junior doctor shares her story as to why she objects so strongly to the changes…
What Are The New Contracts Proposing?
At the moment, junior doctors are paid “standard time” for hours between 7am -7pm, Monday to Friday, and if they work outside this time they are paid overtime. The new contracts wants to extend “standard time” to 10pm, Monday to Saturday.
Will It Mean Junior Doctors Are Paid Less?
The British Medical Associate and the thousands of junior doctors opposed to the contracts say the new hours could mean a pay cut of up to 30%. They also feel that it will lead to doctors being overstretched and overworked – putting patients in danger.
Are There Any Other Changes?
Yes, pay progression for time out will be scrapped. Currently NHS employees receive annual pay increments as they progress throughout their careers, learning new skills and taking on added responsibilities. Currently, taking a year out for research or maternity leave is included and you still benefit from these annual increases. However, these would be replaced with just six different pay grades which means your pay would be put on hold when you take time out, and could mean you return on a lower salary when you return. Not good news for the 77% of junior doctors who are female.
How Are Junior Doctors Reacting?
As well as the recent march, many have said they will strike to stop the contracts going ahead. And, worryingly, a recent survey showed seven out of ten doctors will leave if the contracts are put in place.
What Has Jeremy Hunt Said?
The government insist that the new contracts will benefit both healthcare professionals and patients – and Jeremy Hunt says the BMA has ‘misled’ the junior doctors who oppose them. “The proposals will improve patient safety by better supporting a better NHS,” a spokesperson for the Department of Health said. “This contract will not impose longer hours for junior doctors and we will ensure that the great majority are as well paid as they are now.
‘The New Hours Are Bad For Anybody Who Loves The NHS’
Georgie Eltenton, 26, a Foundation Year Two Doctor, who lives in Oxford shares with LOOK why she went on the march…
This is about so much more than money. If these contracts go ahead they could put patients and our much loved NHS in danger. I couldn’t not march, and add my voice to the thousands of others, who strongly oppose them.
I first came across the proposed changes back in July, when Jeremy Hunt gave his King’s Fund speech, and addressed the issue of consultant cover at the weekend. I can remember feeling so angry when he said the new contracts would “bring back a sense of vocation and professionalism to consultants.” I can’t think of a group of people more dedicated to their jobs than doctors.
Because we are. We all absolutely love our jobs, I certainly do. When you cancel more social gatherings than you attend, or give up Christmas after Christmas with your family because you’re at work, you have to love it not to burn out. My partner is also a junior doctor and despite living together we will often go a full week without seeing each other due to all the out of hours work we do.
Critics say that the emotional rewards of our job should be enough, but we do all have lives outside of medicine. The new ‘normal working hours’ would make for very antisocial lives. How can Jeremy Hunt claim that a Saturday evening should count the same as a Wednesday morning? Then, of course, there’s the pay drop. I’m not arguing for a pay rise in any way but please let us keep what we currently earn.
But these hours aren’t just bad for us, they’re bad for anybody who uses and loves the NHS. I fear the hours are going to overstretch us to our limit. And, the terrifying thing is tired doctors make mistakes. I don’t see how they could increase the weekend cover, without decreasing the doctors that are on during the week. We’re already understaffed Monday to Friday, most rotas I have been on since qualifying have been short a doctor or two.
Working anti-social hours also adds to the stress we already face daily. Because of course this is an emotionally grueling job. I am not someone who cries easily but I have found myself sobbing behind a vending machine before. We have to deal with unbelievably sad situations and it is difficult sometimes not to break down in front of patients. This becomes even tougher when these situations arise after a long string of calls or on a night shift, when you’re physically worn out too. We have to deal with a lot of responsibility and the repercussions of making mistakes can be terrible.
All of this is so demoralizing to us, the very people who love and support, and will do anything to maintain our NHS. And by doing so, I fear that those who say that this is a way of breaking the NHS to privatize it are right. Already many junior doctors are saying they will leave if the new contracts are put in place.
I know that Jeremy Hunt claims that he would actually decrease the maximum number of hours we work in a week from 90 to 72, but then he also plans to remove financial penalties that are currently in place should hospitals make us work longer. The two just don’t add up.
He has also said that we have been ‘misled’ by the BMA – but, the thing is, junior doctors are taught from the very beginning of medical school how to critically appraise papers, how to see flaws in studies and how to draw our own conclusions. Does that sound like a group of people who are easily misled in their tens of thousands?
Going on the march was actually incredible – the speakers were inspiring and it really made me feel part of something. It made me realize how lucky we are to have the NHS, and after months of feeling undervalued by Jeremy Hunt and co, it made me feel so proud to be a junior doctor again. I just so, so hope that the government now sits up and listens to us – we have to be heard, for the sake of everyone.