Junior doctors across Britain have walked out of work for 24 hours over a dispute with the government over the new contract they have been offered.
Junior doctors in England account for a third of the medical workforce. There are 55,000 and 37,000 are British Medical Association (BMA) members — which is the body that called the strike.
Meanwhile, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt described the junior doctors’ strike as “completely unnecessary” and said
“we have some disagreements with the British Medical Association over pay. But we all want to promise every patient who uses the NHS the promise of the same high-quality care every day of the week.”
“And at the moment we have an NHS where if you have a stroke at the weekends, you’re 20% more likely to die. That can’t be acceptable,” he told the BBC.
So, Business Insider spoke to a junior doctor from Hull who is active on the picket line to get to the bottom of what is happening on the front line and what were the exact reasons for her and her colleagues taking strike action.
Business Insider: Tell us in a nutshell why you and the rest of the junior doctors are striking.
Ellen McCourt: Junior doctors are striking for two main reasons. Firstly the government is removing safeguards that would risk patients safety in our contracts — safe working hours and conditions for junior doctors.
The second is changing the way we are paid. Previously we’d be paid extra for antisocial hours, such as evenings and weekends, but the government does not want to deem them as antisocial any more. They are considered normal working times. Considering emergency medicine primarily deals in antisocial hours, this means emergency healthcare workers will ultimately get a pay cut.
[The government says a night shift is any shift which includes three hours between 11pm and 6am while the BMA says it’s any shift that includes hours after 10pm. There are also various disagreements over issues such as rest periods and shift patterns.]
These are the two main reasons — it’s not safe, not fair, and not sustainble.
BI: What are the biggest misconceptions over why you are all striking?
EM: The biggest misconception is that we all just want a pay rise. We have never said that we are looking for or wanting a payrise. We need assurances from the government that it will negotiate on the concerns we have over our contracts (patients and doctors’ safety).
The government wants to change working hours that are just completely inappropriate for junior doctors. They want a seven-day NHS but we are already operating a seven-day NHS. As a trainee, I work one in two weekends — I don’t know how many more I can work.
We already have problems recruiting and retaining doctors in the UK, so the issue is two fold — safety assurances and not implementing pay cuts.
BI: Junior doctors earn around £22,636, according to the NHS website, but how many hours do you and other junior doctors work and what is the change over your contracts?
EM: We legally can work 91-hour weeks, which average out to around 48-hour weeks over six months. The government isn’t contractualising more hours for us but they are not giving us assurances about safeguards around working long and antisocial hours.
They are removing the current financial penalty scheme which will disincentivise NHS Trusts from making us work unsafe hours. [Currently, hospitals are monitored and fined is doctors regularly work longer hours than legally allowed. The government wants to scrap this].
We see that [the scrapping of the financial penalties] as a disincentive as it won’t stop people from breaking the rules if there is nothing to penalise them for.
BI: What is your response to those who are unsupportive of industrial action and that you are all being seen to be jeopardising patients’ safety with strikes?
EM: Any patient looking for emergency care will receive the exact same level of care as they would on Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve.
Accident and Emergency is fully staffed so any sick adult or child would still be seen by emergency staff. (The BMA actually asked doctors working in A&E to go to work, meaning around 38% of junior doctors broke the picket line).
While we regret to put some patients on hold for difficult procedures, like hip operations, we have to look at the bigger picture and the sustainability of our contracts within the NHS.
BI: The government, namely Jeremy Hunt, seems pretty immovable on contract negotiations. What are the time frames for further strike action if a deal can’t be made?
EM: In the short term, we have left a two-week window for the government to take time to consider and respond to our concerns.
However, we are in for the long haul. We will continue to take industrial action as the concerns over patient safety doesn’t change and we will not be swayed on that.
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