The Gryphon chats to Nick Spencer about how junior doctors are under threat from the government, and why we should all be worried
Can you tell me a bit more about the issue that medics and doctors all around the country are campaigning against?
After talks with the British Medical Association (BMA) broke down over the summer, the government have decided to go ahead with their new contract for junior doctors which, as it stands, will be implemented next August.
Under the new contract, the definition of social hours will change from 7am-7pm Monday to Friday to 7am-10pm Monday to Saturday. That doesn’t necessarily mean doctors will be working 30 more hours a week, but the restrictions that stop doctors from working longer hours have been removed.
On top of this, the banding system which designates rates of pay depending on the level of responsibility and antisocial hours involved in a job will be scrapped. The specifics have yet to be released, but this could mean an average drop in pay of 15-30% depending on speciality.
The GP supplement, which makes up 31% of their salaries, is also being cut, and annual pay increases which all doctors receive will be halted for women on maternity leave, making them worse off than their male peers in the long term.
How do you think it will affect the profession?
As medics we understand we have to work antisocial hours. But at the same time, we also want to have families, and working nights and weekends will deprive us of the chance to have a normal social life.
I had never really considered my salary. The reasons why I wanted to go in to the profession were to make a difference and to help people. But what a lot of people are saying is that it’s not the money itself, it’s the kick in the teeth. We provide a valuable service, and we work beyond our hours. I know it was my choice to get in to it, but I made that choice five years ago, and now ten months before I start, I’m being told that I’m potentially going to work longer and get paid less.
With students having to pay £9000 a year for 5-6 years, do you think some people will see a degree in medicine as a bad investment, considering the working conditions you will end up with?
I think people are being deterred by the profession because it is an expensive investment, and there’s a substantial drop-out rate for those who graduate medicine and go out to work. I have spoken to doctors who know people from medical school who within their first few years of working have dropped out or developed mental health issues. I was talking to one consultant who said that within his graduate class, five people committed suicide within the first few years of their jobs. If you’re paying yourself in to a career where you’re going to be working your socks off to help people and will be at a higher risk of developing mental health issues, and with less time to see your family, even though it’s a rewarding job, it’s stressful.
So how are you campaigning on this issue?
Myself and Tom Bamford decided to start a student led campaign. We first worked on raising awareness throughout the medical school, by holding an open discussion evening. We then wrote an open letter from the medical students of Leeds which we sent to David Cameron, Jeremy Hunt, Jeremy Corbyn, Greg Mulholland and others, and we got around 650 signatures.
There is a protest going on in Leeds on the 28th organised by the junior doctors, and me and Tom are now being directly involved in this. There will be guest speakers including BMA representatives and Harry Leslie Smith, who spoke about the NHS at the Labour party conference in 2014. His experience of life before the NHS is heartbreaking. There will also be gurus and specialists answering people’s questions on how this will affect everyone.
How do you plan on promoting across the university?
What we want to do is raise awareness about how this is going to affect all students. We want to use the Better University forums to try and lobby the university to take a stance. As school rep I’ve been feeding back to Melissa (LUU Education Officer) and I’ve been working with the campaigns team. I’ve spoken to the exec members and they’re quite keen for the union to get more involved. We just want to keep people up to date with changes as they happen, and promote a better awareness of the health service in general.
Why should other people support your cause? How will this affect everyone?
This is going to affect every service user, or potential service user, of the NHS. I know the NHS is not perfect, but I personally think it is one of the best things to ever happen to this country. Now we can almost see the NHS being dismantled in front of us, and it’s really scary.
As a junior doctor, you have to deal with literally anything. I can’t imagine that after a string of night shifts, late shifts and antisocial hours that my mind will be in a good place to make life-changing decisions. If you’re not on the ball, people could die. Its the same with any job – if you work too hard and don’t look after yourself, you’re more likely to make mistakes. What we don’t want to happen is this to have a negative impact on patient safety.
Would you consider moving abroad to work instead?
In any other profession, if you got offered the opportunity to work abroad, in nicer weather where you will get treated better and paid more for the same rewarding job, you would be tempted. New doctors don’t have the same ties as older doctors, so they are thinking ‘Why do I have to take this?’
You have to apply to the General Medical Council (GMC) to establish you’re fit to work in a different country. People have been doing that as a protest, to prove to the government that this many people are considering moving away to work.
Now the government have been talking to the GMC about preventing junior doctors from applying to move abroad in the first few years of their careers, so you have to have a committed number of years with the NHS. I think most people aren’t suddenly going to get up and leave, as there is hope that things will change, but there are a lot of people that are considering moving.
(Image courtesy of Nao Takahashi)