Thursday, 8 October 2015

An unsafe NHS? Changes to the junior doctor contract

It's something that all of the medics are talking about, but that most of the public don't seem to have heard about: the changes to the junior doctor contracts.

For some reason the media don't seem to have caught on to the whole fiasco, or otherwise don't want to talk about it all over the news. Even my mum didn't know anything about it until I discussed it with her last night. Perhaps people believe that it won't affect the general public, but that's ridiculous because it will massively. So if you haven't heard about the changes to contracts, I urge you to read on...

Junior doctors are classed as anyone that has just graduated from medical school to those that are just under consultancy level. The government, under Jeremy Hunt's instruction, have recently decided that they will impose a new contract on junior doctors in England to come into play from August 2016.

The basic main points are:
- Sociable hours will be extended from 7am-7pm Monday to Friday to 7am-10pm Monday to Saturday - meaning that 'standard time' will be extended from 60 to 90 hours per week.
- Junior doctors will therefore be paid less as unsociable hours are reduced, and will receive a pay cut of up to 30%.
- The consequence of extended sociable hours means that safeguards to make sure doctors aren't overworked will be looser.
- No more banding payments.
- Removal of the GP specialty training supplement - meaning that they could be paid up to 31% less than those choosing a hospital specialty.
- No more annual pay progression - pay will be linked to stage of training. So if junior doctors move from paediatrics to GP, for example, they will go right back to a lower pay scale, instead of being rewarded for the amount of experience they have. It would also affect those that have to take time out of training for sickness or maternity leave.

So basically, bad news for junior doctors - increased hours and reduced pay. In fact, it has been shown that juniors could only be paid as much as a McDonald's restaurant manager, or the same amount per hour as an NHS cleaner. There is definitely nothing wrong with either of these jobs, but doctors have gone through 5 hard years at medical school and are responsible for patients' lives; I believe that the pay should reflect their responsibility.

It is not even the pay that most medics are angry about - it is the increased hours and reduced safeguards for juniors being overworked. This is where the public come in: doctors are going to become overworked and tired, there is no doubt about it. This will lead to unsafe practice and, consequently, more patients will be at risk of harm or even death. Would you want to be treated by a doctor that was at the end of a 14 hour shift?

Additionally, mental health services could be negatively affected. GPs and psychiatrists are currently the doctors that most patients will see for their mental health. These physicians are often people that have decided on a career change later on, perhaps for better working hours or to build long-term relationships with their patients. However, the new contract will mean that if doctors decide to retrain, they will slide right back down to a lower pay scale - obviously making this an unattractive option. General Practice also attracts a lot of women, and if they will not receive time-based pay increments with the new contract during maternity leave, it again makes becoming a doctor an unattractive career.

A recent survey has shown that 42% of junior doctors would consider moving abroad to search for a better working life, where they could guarantee higher patient safety and a more satisfying career. A career where they are respected and rewarded for the hard work that they carry out. If the new contract is enforced we will lose some of our best doctors from this country - our standard of healthcare will drop and the NHS will suffer.

The way that the media portray doctors is very frustrating for medics. They do work hard and they actually don't get paid as much as you think. Clinicians are already completely stretched and constantly stressed - the new contract proposal is the last thing we need in this country right now.

If you want a safe and efficient NHS workforce, please sign the official UK government petition to oppose the changes to junior doctor contracts (it takes 30 seconds).

The contract changes will be destructive for patients, decrease morale in doctors, and detrimental to the NHS. Let's stop that from happening.

Also watch this clever YouTube video by Dr Slade about the changes to the junior doctor contract.
The trouble is, you think you have time.
              - Buddha


  1. Great to see you talking about this Hannah - I'm thinking about writing about the issue too. The general public aren't really seeing enough about it. Although at the moment I don't want to think about leaving the UK, I'm not totally opposed to the idea of a better life abroad, where we would be treated more fairly and able to safely provide good care to our patients.
    Jennifer x
    Ginevrella | Lifestyle Blog

  2. I found this post through Jenny! Thanks for writing about it - I've written a post about it too. The more we spread the word, hopefully the more we have public support.

    Saskia /