The controversial new junior doctors’ contract is set to be imposed by the government, despite a nationwide strike that took place on Wednesday.
Nearly 3,000 operations were cancelled and appointments faced disruption as junior doctors took part in their second 24-hour strike over the government’s new employment contract.
Formal talks between Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and the British Medical Association (BMA) broke down in January, and after chief negotiator Sir David Dalton advised the government to do “whatever it deems necessary” to end the conflict, the contract is set to be imposed regardless of opposition.
The Health Secretary claims the new contract is part of the government’s plan to introduce a seven-day NHS. However, a fundamental sticking point in discussions has surrounded the proposed changes to junior doctor salaries, which will involve an 11% increase in basic pay but a decrease in the amount of money doctors receive for working evenings and weekends.
The government’s latest offer means that doctors working at least one in four Saturdays will receive extra pay for these shifts, an improvement on previous offers.
Many in the profession feel that making doctors work more hours for less pay will lead already stretched weekday services to become unsafe and that around 70% of junior doctors will leave the NHS, leading to what some doctors have described as a ‘brain drain’ Strikes took place all over the country, including outside Leeds General Infirmary (LGI), where there was overwhelming public support.
The protest was followed by a demonstration in Leeds City Centre, which saw junior doctors provide lessons on basic life support and explain the contractual dispute to members of the general public.
Dr Polly Dickerson, a junior doctor and University of Leeds lecturer, stated that although she did not want to strike, she ‘had no choice’.
She hoped Jeremy Hunt would ‘start listening to the real concerns’ of those striking and offer a contract that would, primarily, make patients safer.
However, she feels that demanding ‘more work from the same number of already over-worked people, for the same overall budget’ will be to the detriment of ‘high quality care in the future’ and will put off bright students from studying Medicine at university.
Dr Lucie Cocker, a junior doctor and BMA representative at Mid Yorkshire Hospitals, stated on the picket line outside LGI that an all-week service would be possible, so long as funding is increased ‘across the board … for all the hospital support staff.’
Dr Cocker also expressed concern for current medical students, who ‘don’t know what NHS they’re going into in August’ once they’ve qualified. These reforms are not only ‘unfair’ on junior doctors currently working in the NHS, but also for future generations of those wanting to enter the medical profession.
Jonny Chard & George Jackson
Image: Jason Lau