Today, junior doctors across England will be going on strike for the first time in 40 years. For any non-medics, the question is why? Well, I will do my best to explain.
Firstly, I should define what a “junior” doctor is. I place those air quotes around the term junior for a good reason. There is nothing “junior” about a junior doctor. You may assume a junior doctor is someone fresh out of medical school. However, a junior doctor is a term that covers anyone from those in the their first year working after graduating medical school, all the way to those training in their chosen specialties, possibly 10-15 years after qualifying. This means a “junior” doctor can be someone well into their 30s or even 40s, someone with years of training, experience and responsibility.
Bearing the above in mind, this is what the government is proposing:
- Changing plain working time from 7am-10pm Monday to Saturday. That’s right, these hours will be considered normal working hours and will be paid as such.
- The removal of safeguards protecting doctors from being overworked. Hospitals currently are fined if staff are made to work beyond the contracted hours. The government want to remove this safeguard that stops doctors from working up to 100 hour weeks. This is dangerous to not just the staff but the patients – would you want to be seen and treated by a doctor who is running on little to no sleep?
- Reducing the amount of pay for working antisocial hours. The current pay system involves something called ‘banding’. It is a little complicated but it basically remunerates doctors for working antisocial hours (antisocial hours being those outside the normal working hours – see point one). Banding supplements a doctor’s basic pay and for many is a vital source of their income. Which leads me to..
- Increasing basic pay by 11%. Sounds alright doesn’t? Wrong. Given what I mentioned about banding, it will in fact result in a pay cut. Without the extra payment for working antisocial hours, many will have a reduced income. So whilst basic pay is going up, the amount paid for antisocial hours is being reduced at a much greater rate = pay cut.
- A 7-day NHS. For anyone who has ever been in hospital on a weekend, or used A&E on a bank holiday/Christmas, you will know the NHS is already working 7 days! Inpatients and those coming into A&E will always be seen to and not left hanging over the weekend. This soundbite that politicians keep spouting gives completely the wrong message to those who may be critically unwell and need to be treated asap.
The first of the strikes is happening today. If no agreement is made between the government and the British Medical Association, they will happen again in a weeks time, and the week after that, each with progressing severity. No junior doctor wants to strike but they are left with no choice as they are not being listened to. This contract is not only going to affect them but every person who comes into contact with the NHS. If the contract is pushed through, doctors may leave the country or even leave the profession. This leaves an NHS that will be spread very thinly trying to cover the growing shortages in staff. And who does this ultimately effect? The patients.
As a medical student (albeit on a leave of absence), I fully support the junior doctors strike. They are not only fighting for their future but the future of every medical student in England. They are standing up and protecting your NHS. Help support those striking by spreading word of what this is all about.