Today marked day one in a two-day complete strike by the Junior Doctors. For the first time in NHS history, there’s been a full walkout from Juniors as the consultants have been covering their work. After months of negotiation, these strikes are the result of an unfair and unsafe contract proposed by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt (which I’m fairly certain is now cockney rhyming slang).
Hunt has been claiming that people are more likely to die on the weekend (not really), and essentially, the new contract proposes unsafe working hours, trying to create a 7 day NHS with the budget for 5 days. So, surely the only way to do this would be to get more doctors, nurses and other health care professionals?
The Junior Doctors are currently striking to prevent the NHS from being stretched to its absolute limit. By creating an NHS that cannot function, the government will be able to sell parts of it to private companies ad all of a sudden we’ll have no NHS. Instead, we’ll have a private health care system similar to that of the US, which I’m pretty certain no one actually wants. As for the current contract plans, I’m not going to explain it, so here’s an infographic summing it all up.
As well as a decrease in pay, the new contract effectively removes safeguards which prevent Junior Doctors from working too much – this will create tired doctors, and tired doctors make mistakes. One time, when I was really tired and doing some late night baking, I accidentally used icing sugar instead of flour. I was shattered, I misread the labels and I was left with a very unappetising sugary mess. Now imagine how much worse that’d be if I was doing something important on the wards.
As for the Not Fair segment of the #NotSafeNotFair hashtag that’s being used by those on strike, not only are new F1s being paid less than the one’s they’re replacing, the new contract disproportionately targets women. Those who are working part time will be paid less her hour than those working full time, and increased weekend and evening rostering will impact single parents (predominantly women). To quote the Equality Impact Assessment of the new contract undertaken by the Department of Health:
“Any indirect adverse effect on women is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.”
“This may disadvantage lone parents (who are disproportionately female) due to the increased cost of paid childcare in the evenings and weekend”
Sorry female doctors. Turns out we’re all expendable to try and get that “legitimate aim.”
How is this even acceptable in 2016? 60% of people applying to medical school are women, and we’re seeing more and more women doctors. That being said, certain specialties (mainly surgery) are disproportionally male, and only 24% of medical directors are women. These contract impositions will make it even harder for women to rise in male dominated areas. How dare they go off and take maternity leave and work part-time for something as frivolous as raising a child?! Lean in ladies! Lean in! And while you’re at it, chug another Red Bull, cause you’ll be leaning in for acceptable in 2016? 60% of people applying to medical school are women, and we’re seeing more and more women doctors. That being said, certain specialties (mainly surgery) are disproportionally male, and only 24% of medical directors are women. These contract impositions will make it even harder for women to rise in male dominated areas. How dare they go off and take maternity leave and work part-time for something as frivolous as raising a child?! Lean in ladies! Lean in! And while you’re at it, chug another Red Bull, cause you’ll be leaning in for much longer.
This all seems wildly unfair and unsafe right? The British Medical Association have been in negotiations with the government since October 2013, and Jeremy Hunt has refused to budge. At this point, a strike is the only viable option as negotiations simply are not happening. Then why is the media vilifying Junior Doctors so much? They’ve been called “moet medics,” “immature,” “naïve,” “militant,” and so much more. The media is implying that during the strikes hospitals will be completely closed down (they won’t) and that there’ll be no one there to look after you (There will. Consultants are covering for the juniors.) The media is implying that it’s all about the pay and we’re just a bunch of selfish fat cats who don’t want to work hard and just want more money. Even if it is about the pay, which it’s not, why are we being held to such a high standard? No one came at the tube drivers with this much vitriol? Medicine is hard, it’s understandable that we’d want to be paid for out work, but ultimately it’s for patient safety. We cannot be expected to work in such an unsafe environment, and it’s genuinely worrying that the media don’t seem to get that.
Smarter and more knowledgeable people have written about the contract dispute in greater depth than me and I implore you to go and read some of their stuff (I’ll post some links at the bottom), so I’ll try and add my own personal spin. Ever since a really young age I’ve wanted to be a doctor. I’ve applied to medical school twice (didn’t get in the first time and I wasn’t going to let something as silly as that stop me), and for the past three and a half years, I’ve been working hard. Medicine is really cool! It’s a beautiful mixture of science and performance and communication and technical skill, and I can’t picture myself doing anything else.
That being said, I don’t feel comfortable going on the wards and knowing that I might be in an unsafe environment. I don’t want to feel like I’m valued less because of my gender or because sometime in the future I might want to have kids. And if I do eventually have kids, I don’t want to feel unable to support it because I’m getting paid less. I’ve only (hopefully) got a year and a bit until graduation, and if I have to sign the imposed contract, it’ll be with a heavy heart that I’m being a part of the final stage of the NHS.
Appendix (…I guess. Sounds a bit formal doesn’t it)
Why the hours are so damn unsafe:
- A night shift is now classed as more than 3 hours between 11pm and 6am. By that logic, overtime until 1:59am doesn’t count, and you could be expected to be in the next morning as normal
- Hospitals are no longer fined for making doctors work crazy hours
For more info:
Thanks to Jacob King & Paul Cookson for fact checking. Blame them if you find any mistakes