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GPs must support junior doctors – and here’s how

Dr Hamed Khan sets out the ways in which GPs can show their support as junior doctors prepare for industrial action over changes to their contract

After months of debate, junior doctors have voted to take industrial action. The BMA secured a landslide mandate, with more than 98% of junior doctors voting to go ahead and withdraw their labour.

GPs at every level have been vociferous in their support for junior doctors. Grassroots organisations (such as Tiko’s GP Group and GP Survival), the RCGP and GP leaders have all been lobbying against the health secretary’s proposals as strongly as they could.

Although the junior doctor contract changes won’t affect us directly, most GPs are not convinced by the health secretary’s reassurances that GP registrars will not be affected. There is understandable suspicion about the replacement of out-of-hours pay enhancements with shadowy ‘pay premia’.

Looking at the bigger picture, GPs feel strongly that the changes are unethical and unfair. We have all been junior doctors, and feel outraged that these highly qualified, committed professionals, who earn £22k a year, work 60-90 hours a week, pay thousands of pounds to get extra qualifications and leave no stone unturned in the quality of care they provide, are being stretched beyond breaking point.

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Most importantly, we worry about our patients who may be treated by exhausted doctors, or have to endure even longer waiting times as we see the exodus of doctors leaving the UK for ‘non toxic environments’, to quote Royal College of Emergency Medicine president Dr Cliff Mann.

So what can we do to help them? I have been working with junior doctors to support their campaign both in the national media and on social media, and have been talking to them at length in my role as an A&E doctor. There are several ways in which we can help them, directly or indirectly:

1 Join the Junior Doctor Contract Forum Facebook group.1 This is 53,000 strong and is the best place to keep up to date with key events and the issues at the heart of the crisis.

2 Join them in protests and at local ‘meet the doctors’ events. We may not be junior doctors ourselves, but helping boost numbers and showing solidarity is extremely important. More importantly, the public often finds it convincing to hear the arguments from non-junior doctors, who don’t have any personal pecuniary interest in the contracts. The best place to get details of when and where these events are happening is the Junior Doctors Contract Forum on Facebook.

3 Talk to your patients. Often patients who know us well and have established good rapport with us will ask us for our views on what is happening. Be honest and explain that the junior doctors’ contract will remove the safeguards that ensure doctors don’t work dangerously long hours. A service with exhausted doctors, like an aircraft with an exhausted pilot, puts people at risk. The health secretary can call the strike off within minutes, if he takes up the BMA’s offer to start independently arbitrated discussions through Acas (which most patients will be aware of). But he has specifically decided against this.

4 Reassure people you meet that emergency services will be covered during the strike. There is currently huge anxiety among patients, but you can counter some of the spin. GP surgeries will continue to work as normal, although there may be picket lines and GP registrars may be absent. But by and large, GP practices will be unaffected.

5 Support your registrars if they wish to strike. Legally, GP registrars are entitled to strike even if they are not members of the BMA, and should not have to ‘make up’ missed sessions.

6 Tell everyone about the NHS anthem – this is devised by junior doctors to raise awareness and was released last month.2

7 Wear a badge. Email to purchase one.

8 Get on twitter. This is a good way to communicate directly with politicians, policymakers and journalists without any barriers. Politicians will often feel compelled to reply to a question if they receive vast numbers of tweets, and journalists often quote tweets on TV and radio programmes. It is one of the easiest and most effective ways to influence the wider debate.

Despite all of this, it is possible that the strike will be called off, Jeremy Hunt may be persuaded to take up the latest offer from the BMA to hold discussions through Acas, despite his initial rejection of the proposal. Even if such talks take place, it is imperative that we continue to support junior doctors, as this issue certainly isn’t going away anytime soon.

Dr Hamed Khan is a GP in Surrey, an A&E doctor and a clinical lecturer at St George’s, University of London

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Readers' comments (21)

  • Is it possible that some GP's do not support strike action?

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  • It is possible some Gp's don't support action. Just as 2% of junior doctors didn't.
    It's interesting to read of patients groups stating that doctors should not strike as it is their vocation. Well only 2% of junior doctors believe that if 100% of those voted no for that reason.
    Also I will be interested to see how the media spins this. If the media are generally supportive it may pave the way for Gp strikes in the future if ( and when) the same happens to us. Some may argue with 7/7 opening it already has.

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  • The issues affecting doctors are also the same for other healthcare workers such as nurses. If the nurses were also to ballet it could be a real crisis.

    All allied healthcare workers need to stick together to:

    1. Bring in a fully independent judge-led body to regulate healthcare and also patient safety.
    2. To remove politicians from healthcare
    3. Bring in strict corporate manslaughter laws for healthcare managers, politicians and regulators.
    4. Bring in US style whistleblower protection laws so that the likes of the GMC and managers who target whistleblowers be criminalised and face up to 10 years in prison.
    5. Healthcare workers to be regulated and be legally accountable.

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  • 5. Should refer to healthcare managers being regulated. Front line workers already are!

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  • Vocation Vocation Vocation
    You should all shut up and work for the privilage and you'll be earning tons in the future, get a grip I'm a tax payer and I pay for you!
    Said the Junior doctor to the MP

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  • times have changed - with the 2004 contract the state wanted a professional results orientated career driven work force. it's too late to turn back the clock. in addition society has changed - doctors are no longer part of the family and respected as they once were. we are viewed as 'nothing special' but service providers and according to some offer poor service (access, customer relations etc). the NHS is not valued as it once was as well - bottom line is that all of this was inevitable. In order for the public to value the NHS they will have to lose it. Once they see the reality of private health insurance then it will dawn on them the mistake of not supporting the NHS. The junior doctors by their action are putting issues re: NHS firmly in the limelight and the public have a chance to decide. It's symbolic. Support the juniors and you are supporting the NHS. Turn your back on the juniors and it will send them a message that their sacrifices are not appreciated - they will then take appropriate action and the NHS will collapse - without doctors you can not have a health service.

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  • As the parent of two NHS doctors, what is almost "criminal" is the lack of respect for the tremendous sacrifices that are made by Junior Doctors (bad name, should be Foundation Doctors, a name which has been supposedly in place for years): from the time they work/study hard to get the required A level grades, to then actually gaining a place at a Med School, to then getting through each of the 5 years, THEN getting successfully through the two Foundation years (very testing in every way), and then getting a place on a specialism Training course.

    And all along the way, including weekend work for most specialisms, a 37.5 hour week is nothing but a whisper of a glimpse of a shadow of a dream.

    At a minimum of a 60 hour week, for 52 weeks, that's 3,120 hours including holidays, for which they are paid). Taking £24,000 as a generous average of annual pay for those two years, that makes the hourly wage a pathetic £7.69 per hour - BEFORE TAX.

    Yes, they are "in training", but also contributing from Day 1 to the care and survival of patients of all ages. Only intensely dedicated and sacrificial people would do this for that sort of money, not to mention the wear and tear on relationships with their families, spouses, partners and friendship circles.

    This level of sacrifice does not appear to be recognised or admitted to by many people, and especially by Jeremy Hunt and other politicians. When the powers that be are seeming to ignore such sacrifice by such highly intelligent and talented people, and we the public will be the ones to potentially suffer from an under-staffed NHS doctor role, then those powers had better WAKE UP and smell the antiseptic.

    Of course, maybe Cabinet members all/mostly have private health care, and aren't that bothered.

    As for 7-Day working, it already happens (and these weekend processes will have to "work smarter"). As to getting more doctors to enable 7-Day working to be even slightly feasible, the politicians should be reminded that it takes a MINIMUM of 10 years to get from 1st Year Med student to becoming a qualified GP, and the other specialisms take longer.

    Politicians should not be playing these brinkmanship games with people so self-sacrificially dedicated to their profession. And at whatever level, Doctors (and Nurses) are well worth every penny, and much, more.

    Remember, Politicians, this is HEALTH we are talking about, not bin collections, government bureaucrats, tax advisers, and even teachers, etc.

    And, finally, do not rely on asset-stripping from other countries of their doctors and nurses, as that is detrimental to those countries that paid for the lengthy training of those health professionals, and it smacks of old-style colonialism. Recent Stat: about 30-35% of UK doctors are foreign trained; that is FAR to large a proportion; that is talent-asset-stripping on an industrial scale. UK born, bred and trained/qualified doctors (& nurses) are what UK citizens expect to see, and are what we should get.

    Any reader can feel free to copy this and send it to your MP (just be sure to leave out the personal info on "parent of two NHS doctors" - unless of course you are also part of the very small "Double-Doc Club" - our motto is "Proud But Poor"!).

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  • Anonymous 3.04pm.

    Employing foreign doctors is not "asset stripping". Many of these doctors remit money to friends and family in their country of origin. Many return taking skills, contacts and funds. The World's entire aid budget to the developing world is far smaller than the remittances sent from those working abroad. Many only trained in medicine to escape grinding poverty; do you suggest such efforts should not be rewarded?

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  • Talk to your patients and explain why the junior doctors are taking industrial action? If you've got the time to do that then you're not busy enough.

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  • I don't think in my long history as hospital doctor and a gp so much so much unreasonable behaviour of the GOVT.they choose one thing for themselves and treat other as their bought servents.Juniot Doctors should keep their dignity and value themselves.they are the actual runner of hosp A/E.without them health services witll standstill.

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