Britain’s doctors are threatening a strike over changes to pay and working hours that they claim are “bad for patients, bad for junior doctors, and bad for the NHS.”
Junior doctors are threatening industrial action over planned changes to their contracts being implemented by the Department of Health next August.
An online petition backing a strike has passed 50,000 signatures after just 5 days.
The reforms are wide-ranging but the big issue doctors have is the changing of the definition of “sociable hours.”
At the moment, junior doctors are paid the standard rate of pay when they work between 7am and 7pm, Monday to Friday. Any time worked outside of this window earns them overtime pay.
But the new contract would see junior doctors paid the standard rate for working anytime between 7am and 10pm, Monday to Saturday. That essentially makes a 15-hour day “normal” and adds an extra day to the week.
As well as the success of the petition, social media is full of anger among doctors over the proposed changes. This post highlighting the fact that Department of Health boss Jeremy Hunt’s office hours are 8.30am-5.30pm has been shared over 6,000 times on Facebook.
And more senior doctors are also expressing solidarity with junior colleagues, posting pictures on Twitter.
Dr Arrash Yassaee, a junior doctor in East London, told Business Insider: “In many other industries — in the transport industry, in the aviation industry — we have very clear rules about how long people can work because we know what fatigue can do and how dangerous it can be.”
Dr Yassee chaired the British Medical Association’s student conference last year and is a member of the National Junior Doctor’s Committee, but stressed he was speaking in a personal capacity. (Full disclosure, I went to university with Dr Yassaee.)
He says: “We are already in a situation where quite a lot of the medical service is kept going on good will — they [doctors] arrive early, they leave later. The concern is that some of that good will is starting to be eroded away. Hospitals that have really good moral and staff feel really engaged actually have better outcomes.”
Another junior doctor I spoke to, who didn’t want to be named, told me:
Essentially, we’re all being held to ransom, because striking is just not something that we want to, or feel that, we can do, as it’s not exactly in the ethics of our jobs. We all regularly stay late for up to 3-hours a day to ensure that all the work is done, and all our patients are as safe as they can be. As a result, our own personal lives suffer, and it’s pretty demoralising to be working so hard, and yet getting it all thrown back at us.
Not only do the contract changes theoretically make a 15-hour work day “normal” for junior doctors, the petition claims these changes would result in “a pay cut estimated to be around 30%” because 3 hours and a whole day are cut out of the overtime pay bracket. Other estimates put the real-terms pay cut as high as 40%.
Dr Yassaee says: “For a profession that is already struggling to fill training places in vital services, a significant salary cut that will undoubtedly disincentivise recruitment is a workforce disaster waiting to happen.”
The changes are part of the Department of Health’s efforts to create a “seven-day-a-week NHS,” Sky News reports.
The Department of Health claims the new contracts will: enhance the quality and quantity of training opportunities for junior doctors; offer a higher basic rate, with a significant increase in basic salary; pay a better rate for unsocial hours; and offer a flexible pay premium for hard-to-fill specialties.
But Dr Yassaee says: “A significant amount of spending goes towards of staff. Much of the rhetoric around improving the NHS has been around making efficiencies and it’s becoming clearer that it’s coming off the back of staff and wages.”
Dr Yassaee worked at the Department of Health briedly and said there’s “a very palpable air of how important the budget is.”
The NHS’ budget has had an average real-terms increase of just 0.9% per year since the Conservatives first came to power in 2010, according to The King’s Fund, the lowest average increase of any parliament.
The British Medical Association abandoned negotiations with the government over junior doctors contract last month, although has yet to endorse any strike action.
The BMA’s junior doctor committee co-chair Andrew Collier says in a statement on the BMA’s website: “We urge the Government not to impose a contract that is unsafe and unfair. We will resist a contract that is bad for patients, bad for junior doctors and bad for the NHS.”
Doctors forced Parliament to debate a vote of no confidence in Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt last week, after a petition set up in January claiming he’d “alienated the entire workforce of the NHS” gained over 220,000 signatures.
A Department of Health spokesperson told Business Insider over email: “We are disappointed that the BMA junior doctors committee has let down its members and decided against re-entering negotiations, especially in light of the consultants’ agreement to negotiate.
“There is independent support for an updated contract that puts patients first, increases basic pay and rewards those who work across all clinical specialities.”
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