The government is imposing a new contract on junior doctors that can only be interpreted as a kick in the teeth to a group of professionals that are really just trying to do their best in difficult circumstances. A staggering 95% of healthcare professionals support a junior doctors’ strike to oppose it, which would be catastrophic if it went ahead.
The new contract re-defines ‘social’ hours to 7am-10pm Monday-Saturday, it is a large pay cut of up to 30% in some rotas, especially general practice which is already struggling to attract trainees. Coming so soon after the MPs accepted a 10% pay rise, it’s a tough pill to swallow. Doctors are not, by nature, greedy people. What most people don’t know is that they have to pay for their own exams, membership to the BMA, the medical defence union and other organisations. This leaves the average doctor a whopping £17,114 out of pocket over the course of their training. On a starting salary of £22,636 and a student debt exceeding £70,000, many juniors will no longer be able to afford to live in the bigger cities.
The contract also discriminates against women, because it doesn’t protect pay for those that choose to take maternity leave. Many people are under the false impression that sexism doesn’t exist in the NHS now that more female doctors are graduating than male. Not true. Not if you consider that only 38% of GP partners, 31% of hospital consultants and a meagre 11% of consultant surgeons were female in 2012. Women are found in lower paid and lower status positions such as salaried GPs (65%). It saddens me that the male-dominated government are punishing women for acting in the interest of continuing our own species!
The contract also sees the removal of safeguards which protect doctors from being overworked. I don’t care what Jeremy Hunt says: the fact is that junior doctors are being pressured into signing a contract which waives their right to a maximum number of 48 working hours a week. If they don’t sign it’s simple: they don’t get the job. The last time this happened in the 1980s, doctors were working 120 hour weeks; they practically lived in the hospitals. My dad, now an anaesthetist, once told me: ‘I was nearing the end my shift when I was given a list of drug charts to fill in; I made a mistake on every single one’. Do they realise how dangerous this is?
The very worst part of this is that it’s the medical students rather than the current juniors that are going to be worst affected, and we can do very little about it! We can’t strike. We are the perfect targets. Bullying from the government is undermining our profession and distracting the public from the real issues within the NHS - understaffing, increasing private profit and a chronic lack of funding.
So, after I’d signed every petition I could find, emailed my local MP (at home and at Cambridge), and contacted the medical students union and the BMA, I decided to write this open letter to David Cameron.
I was overwhelmed by the support that I received on the social media, from medics and non-medics alike, and I was immensely pleased to realise that we are respected and appreciated, at least by the general public. However, the simple fact is that we need to make a living and have room for a private life if we are to continue doing the best that we can for the NHS. Of course I don’t want to leave the country that I grew up in! But if it’s a choice between that or a family life, well, it’s not really a choice is it?
The government knows that doctors will be the most reluctant to strike; the last thing we want to do is to let our patients down. So please if you value the NHS and want to protect medical students like me from being exploited, then talk about the issue, sign an online petition or email your local MP with your concerns. This is an issue that affects everyone.