Earlier today thousands of junior doctors walked out of their jobs to protest the new contract being imposed by the Health Minister Jeremy Hunt. They claim the contract will lead to a decrease in pay and an increase in the hours worked by Doctors. The Government claims it will lead to a better, 7 day NHS. Who is correct?
Junior Doctors, a group of 53,000 people in the UK, comprised of any doctor below consultant level, have gone on a 48 hour strike today and they have two more strikes planned in April. The new contract imposed on them by the Government contains a basic pay increase of 13.5% on average, as well as changes to the hours classed as ‘unsociable’. Currently, unsociable hours are the hours outside of 7am – 7pm on weekdays and all of the weekend. The new contract extends so called ‘standard time’ to 7am – 10pm on weekdays, and 7am – 5pm on Saturdays. Junior doctors claim this increase in the time labeled as standard time will result in a pay cut of upto 30% and lead to doctors working longer hours.
Negotiations of the new contract between the BMA and the Government broke down in 2014 and junior doctors claim that Jeremy Hunt will not negotiate 22 out of the 23 points of the new contract. The Government has therefore decided that they will simply enforce the contract anyway. This made the situation worse.
The Government claim that 11,000 excess deaths occur at the weekend due to a lack of junior doctors. However this figure has been contested with some claiming this figure is only 6,000 and a few going further, claiming it is Wednesday which sees the most deaths. That said, which ever statistic you use, it would be hard to argue it is due to a lack of junior doctors, as the weekend is when they provide the bulk of their services. A skeptical view may be, that David Cameron needed extra workers at the weekend so that he can deliver his ‘7 day NHS’ by the end of 2020. And junior doctors would be the cheapest way to do this.
Junior doctors may see a pay cut under this new contract, even though their pay is protected for the first three years, but they claim it is not about the money, it is about patient safety. They claim that the contract has weaker safeguards and will lead to more hours being worked, leading to tired doctors. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has warned that ‘there is now a significant chance of returning to the ‘bad old days’ of over-burdened junior doctors in danger of giving sub-standard care. This is unacceptable’ and could ‘significantly compromise the safety and lives of mothers and babies in England’.
Holly Pattendem, a junior doctor, supports the view that junior doctors will be over worked under the new contract. She states that in eight months she managed to finish on time on three occasions, regularly finishing two hours after her official shift ended. She says under the new contract this will get worse. She also claims she will have to work longer and more weekends and warned that junior doctors ‘are breaking’. Stating this as her reason for leaving the profession less than a year after entering it.
‘Over-burdened’ or tired junior doctors giving ‘sub-standard care’ is not something I would enjoy thinking about as I or a family member entered hospital. I am sure you would agree.
However, the Government say that this contract will improve the working conditions of junior doctors and thus improve the quality of treatment for patients. Claiming the new contract has limits on working hours, improved shift patterns, and safeguards to ensure safety provisions are delivered in practice. The NHS National Director for Patient Safety claims that ‘the new contract will not be unsafe or dangerous for patients’.
So according to the Government and a senior director of the NHS, this is a good, safe contract. But the fact remains that those on the front line, making life or death decisions are unhappy, overworked and underpaid. This is not fair. I believe it would be in the best interest for the whole country to listen to what they have to say and work towards a compromise. It is our life in their hands. If one day I end up in hospital I want the people taking care of me to be happy, well rested and to feel valued. By imposing this new contract, morale will be driven down and that is not the best way to provide a quality health service. I hope that Jeremy Hunt acknowledges that this issue will not go away if he ignores it, and acts appropriately on that realisation.