This Saturday junior doctors, other medical students and plenty of others will protest in Nottingham city centre against proposed changes to their working conditions. This follows a larger protest in London when 1,000 marched on Downing Street and another in Bristol which saw 1,500 turn out and traffic halted. These actions stem from the proposal of Health secretary Jeremy Hunt (whose name rhymes appropriately with a word that can’t be printed here) that junior doctors work longer hours for less pay.
There are a myriad of problems with this. Currently, junior doctors receive a ‘standard’ rate of pay for hours worked between 7am and 7pm Monday to Friday. They earn more for working evenings and weekends. Hunt proposes that this ‘standard’ time be extended to 7am to 10pm Monday through Saturday. This change will mean the loss of up to 30% of a junior doctor’s salary as a result of not being paid extra to work evenings and Saturdays. Longer shifts are another concern, because even the existing 12 hour stints that are the norm seems an excessive length of time to expect a junior doctor to be at their best considering the life or death nature of the decisions they are expected to make.
“Tired people make mistakes, and when a doctor is tired they could make a mistake that kills you or a loved one”
For example, even lorry drivers are not allowed by law to work more than 9 hours in a day, yet Mr Hunt sees no problem with making junior doctors work 15. It hardly seems an appealing thought that you could walk into a hospital and be treated by someone who has been on the go for 14 hours straight, had minimal breaks and isn’t in a fit state to drive themselves home. Tired people make mistakes, and when a doctor is tired they could make the mistake that kills you or a loved one.
What is most shambolic about the whole affair though is the loss of doctors to countries like Australia where pay is much better, hours more sociable and you get to see the sun once in a while. It costs a lot of money to train a doctor, with estimates ranging from £600,000 to £1 million a head. British medical schools do a fantastic job of it and our doctors are in demand across the world. Considering how much is spent on training, I have to humbly suggest that we try and keep the talent in the UK so we can reap the rewards. It is literally insane to spend a million pounds training a doctor only to offer them such a meager amount of money that they immediately leave for greener pastures. 3,468 requests for the certificate required to work abroad have been submitted since the changes were announced.
“It ultimately comes down to the fact that a quality health service is worth paying for”
This feeds into a wider issue of NHS funding. We have arguably the best public health system in the world which we should all be proud of and grateful for but maintaining it costs a substantial amount. In order to have a first class service you need the funding to match, however this does not seem like something the Conservatives are interested in. The NHS is on course to record a £2 billion deficit this year chiefly due to less than adequate spending as we attempt to deal with effects of an ageing population. Pay for junior doctors is just one area where the government is attempting to cut corners and the quality of care is suffering as a result.
We should all lend our support to the action that junior doctors are taking to fight this unfairness, both here in Nottingham and around the country. It ultimately comes down to the fact that a quality health service is worth paying for and accepting that medical professionals are essential and deserve not to have their wages slashed. Hopefully Jeremy Hunt can be persuaded to change his mind and contracts that will make our hospitals less safe will not be implemented. This should also mean less of our brightest young minds head abroad and take their skills with them. The future of the NHS depends on winning battles like these.
Image by the Weekly Bull
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