Junior doctors are right to protest – the new contract is not safe and not fair
Dr Kailash Chand writes
We have seen an outpouring of anger and frustration from thousands of junior doctors across the UK, culminating in yesterday’s unprecedented gathering in London. Protesters chanted ’Hunt must go’ and ’Not safe, not fair, Jeremy Hunt doesn’t care’ as they made their way to Parliament Square. These doctors have not been misled by the BMA. Many weren’t even members. I am deputy chair of the BMA council - Hunt’s claim that the BMA is misleading junior doctors is a disgraceful lie. The truth is that the contract offer is simply not safe for patients and nor fair for junior doctors.
It is widely known that junior doctors form the fabric of any hospital or GP surgery in the country. Whether it is a ward round, seeing a patient in primary care, or an emergency in A&E, a junior doctor is likely to be at hand to give patients the care they need, or working with the rest of the team to save a life. Jeremy Hunt’s stubbornness in imposing a contract on junior doctors in England from August 2016 goes beyond the issue of their pay. It is yet another piece of evidence of the value he places on the NHS.
It appears that the Government is hellbent on dismantling the NHS and has zero interest in the wellbeing and careers of those who work in it.
So why are the junior doctors so angry? Proposed NHS Employers terms on trainees’ contracts are regarded as being unsafe to patients whose care could be compromised due to long working hours, and unfair due to level of pay proposed. The BMA says this will not financially benefit any of the juniors who have already seen a pay freeze, a reduction of their pension, an increase in pensionable age, and deprivation of basic amenities such as hospital accommodation and decent meals on site in keeping with their odd hours.
To add insult to injury, junior doctors now face a punitive contract that will slash their earnings by up to 15 to 40 per cent depending upon their speciality. The Government is changing what constitutes out-of-hours working so that Saturday is now classified as a weekday and evenings won’t incur extra pay. No surprises then that in the last month the GMC received several thousand requests for certificates allowing doctors to work overseas. Does Jeremy Hunt realise that this punitive contract will result in our best juniors being creamed off by lucrative contracts abroad and it will put many bright youngsters off studying medicine? The inevitable effect of this is the much greater risk to healthcare provision and patient safety throughout England, with the daunting prospect that it would take a generation to reverse the damage. It appears that the Government is hellbent on dismantling the NHS and has zero interest in the wellbeing and careers of those who work in it.
The proposals are particularly unfair to GP and A&E trainees, doctors who take parental leave and clinical academics, all of whom are vital and are likely to be faced with significant pay cuts. Recent official NHS figures, covering the arrival of the latest round of new junior doctors in August, show that acute medicine was still short of the new recruits it needed, as were renal medicine, elderly medicine, psychiatry and general practice. The irony is that by driving UK trainees abroad or to locum agencies, the DH ends up picking up a far bigger bill than they would have had by simply treating our own trainees with fairness.
Today’s junior doctors are the consultants and GPs of tomorrow. They have been trained in some of the best institutions in the world. It is time to get behind them or risk them being lost to the NHS and the country forever.
Dr Kailash Chand OBE is the deputy chair of the BMA, and a retired GP