At the heart of our healthcare service lies a dedicated force of professionals striving to provide quality care and ensure the well-being of patients. Among them, junior doctors serve as the backbone of hospitals, representing the future of medicine. However, from the 11th to the 15th of April, junior doctors, fuelled by frustration with the growing economic crisis, took to the streets in vocal protest to fight for fair wages and better working conditions. To understand the underlying issues behind the strike action and what it means for new NHS staff, Impact’s Alex Paszkowicz interviewed a fifth-year medical student to bring a student voice into this contentious discussion.
Medical students are the future of our country’s NHS. They are the new generation of medical professionals equipping themselves with enthusiastic devotion and knowledge to allow them to serve society. But what happens if they feel as though their services go unrecognised? Strike action, taken up by junior doctors throughout the country, highlights this disparity between their essential work and the recognition they receive.
Centred primarily around wages, the BMA described their aims as wanting ‘to achieve full pay restoration to reverse the steep decline in pay faced by junior doctors since 2008/9’. In addition, they want ‘to agree on a mechanism with the government to prevent any future declines’ and to change pay raises to retain and recruit junior doctors.
Hospitals are still under pressure, and they believe that the public ‘”take it for granted a bit”
Working conditions in hospitals have also deteriorated. Our fifth-year medical student describes A&E wards as having “people in trolleys down the corridor”. In addition, they say that “doctors work insanely hard, like unsociable hours”. To retain staff, they suggest schemes to promote “safe staffing” to reduce pressure and make practitioners “feel valued”.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, our healthcare system amassed over six million patients waiting for non-urgent hospital care, which increased pressure on the NHS. The medical student admits that the “public were quite appreciative” of the NHS during that catastrophic period. However, hospitals are still under pressure, and they believe that the public “take it for granted a bit”.
Despite the student still “looking forward” to starting their training, their diagnosis of the environment they are about to enter does not look particularly appealing. However, they feel that the strike brought the apparently ineradicable issues our healthcare system faces to public attention. Through peaceful protest, “people can see what’s going on” and what needs to change.
The BMA condemned the negotiations as ‘unproductive’ since they received no ‘credible’ or ‘reasonable’ offer
The NHS reports that 195,000 hospital appointments were cancelled and over 27,000 staff were absent at the height of the strike action. After the strikes, the Shadow Health Secretary, Wes Streeting, labelled his Conservative opponent, Steve Barclay, the “invisible man”. Barclay remained firmly behind the government’s position of a 5% wage increase. That figure is considerably less than the BMA’s desired 35%.
After a month, talks between the government and the BMA have broken down. The BMA condemned the negotiations as ‘unproductive’ since they received no ‘credible’ or ‘reasonable’ offer from ministers. The union believes junior doctors have lost 26.2% of the real-terms value of their wages since 2008, leading to difficulties with staff retention.
From Wednesday the 14th to Saturday the 17th of June, junior doctors will walk out of hospitals again. As the BMA no intention of stopping, and the government no intention of compromising, this is a continuous conflict with no solution in sight.
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