What’s all the fuss about I hear you asking? Why did 20,000 doctors take to the streets of London on Saturday? Isn’t it all just about money? Is it because we don’t want to work weekends? Isn’t Jeremy Hunt promising us a 7 day NHS which can only be a good thing? Why aren’t doctors supporting that?
A lot has been said in the press over the past few weeks, and I feel compelled to offer my thoughts.
The NHS was founded in 1948. Its core principles are that it meets the needs of everyone, that it is free at the point of delivery and that it is based on clinical need regardless of a person’s ability to pay. Of course, a lot has changed since 1948… The UK population is growing year on year and so there are an ever increasing number of patients using the service. People are living longer, and their needs and demands on the system have become increasingly more complex. Advancements in technology mean we are diagnosing more diseases and much earlier, and treating them with more expensive drugs.
Some argue that the NHS was never meant to offer the level of care that it does currently. It is no secret money is tight with many NHS trusts running at a loss. Over the past few years, since the change in the Health and Social Care Act in 2012 the NHS has undergone huge privatisation, with traditionally NHS contracts being offered to private companies. It is this fragmentation and privatisation of the NHS that worries doctors.
Why Attack Junior Doctors? What Have They Ever Done To Anyone?
Under the new contract, a normal working day will be from 7am-10pm Monday to Saturday. Currently junior doctors get a basic salary, around £23,000 in their first year of working, plus additional increments called banding depending on how many antisocial hours they work. If the new contract goes ahead, it is likely junior doctors will take a pay cut of up to 30% for working the same, if not more hours. The government are also proposing to remove safeguards in place that exist to help prevent doctors working over their contracted hours by removing the financial penalties trusts have to pay. It also penalizes doctors who want to carry out research, which is vital for finding new treatments and cures for cancer and other diseases.
Scotland and Wales are refusing to impose the new contract, and rightly so.
Why Does It Matter To Me?
Junior doctors need to be protected. They are ‘junior’ from the first day they qualify, up until the day before they become a consultant. This can take anywhere between 5-12 years, if not longer. They are not only our present, but our future. Your lives really are in their hands. Even if you are among the privileged few able to afford private health care, it is still your concern because even the most experienced of doctor, was still an NHS junior doctor at one time.
Isn’t It Still All About Money?
Most, myself included, view being a doctor as a huge privilege. We did not go in to this for money. Certainly, the level of debt, and hours we have to work wouldn’t make it worth our while if we were just doing it for the money. We fund all of our exams post qualification, we can miss Christmas’, our loved ones birthdays and sometimes even weddings because of the on-call rota, and we do it because we care about our patients.
But doctors also have families, bills and mortgages. If the contact is imposed, many simply won’t be able to afford to continue working as a doctor. A large number have already left seeking greener pastures abroad, with many others exploring their options. These are some of the brightest individuals the UK and it is a travesty they are being driven away. It isn’t about a 10% pay rise like the MP’s had, its about not giving them a 30% PAY CUT. So yes, maybe it is a little about the money, but I’m alright with that! But please remember, overall, what doctors are actually fighting for is patient safety #NotSafeNotFair. We need a realistic service that works for everyone – not just the government.
I Want A 7 Day NHS?
There already is a 7 day NHS and doctors already work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We offer an on-call service at weekends, which means anyone that needs to see a doctor will be able to see one. Doctors are in full support of increased provisions at weekends, as long as they are properly staffed and properly funded. We aren’t entirely sure how this is going to happen safely within the time limits the Jeremy Hunt is proposing as there is already not enough money, hospital doctors and GPs to fully staff a 5 day service.
What Does It Mean For The Future?
Demoralised and devalued staff are not good for anyone. Under the new contract doctors will be spread even more thinly, working more hours and for less pay. Tired doctors make mistakes and it is our duty to protect them and ourselves.
The worry is that making the NHS unsafe in this way gives the government even more reason to further push private health care, by showing the public that it isn’t working in its current form. Don’t forget, private companies are already cherry picking the most lucrative NHS services, affording their shareholders huge profits.
Why All The Fuss?
If this continues doctors will leave the profession or move abroad. There won’t be enough doctors and other allied health professionals to staff the service and the NHS will become unsafe for patients. This means, in a few years sadly, you may have to pay to see your GP, pay for your life saving care and pay for all your medication. As will your grandparents and your children. As a doctor working in the private sector, I would likely get paid more, work less hours and have better working conditions. The 20,000 doctors who protested on Saturday are wholly aware of this, but they still marched for you! We need to protect them and our NHS.