Junior doctors across England are fed up! And they have every right to be so regarding the Tory government’s plans on NHS reformation and the new proposals for their new contracts. It’s not about their pay which, by the way, will be cut by up to 40% should these plans are imposed. It’s about saving NHS.
After last year’s cuts in Social Care which led to an increase in NHS patient deaths, the Ministry of Health of the newly elected Tory government is now attacking NHS staff, in this case blaming junior doctors for “messing up the NHS for their salaries”.
Is it them though or Jeremy Hunt and his government to be blamed for this utter disorder in NHS? The answer is obvious since it was the Tory government that decided 20 billion cuts last year, signing the major privatisation deal of 780 million, not the junior doctors.
Now, with fewer resources and less funding, they come to suggest a “24/7 service” of the NHS. As if NHS doesn’t provide emergency care 24/7, as if there are no doctors, nurses, healthcare assistants, porters, radiographers and lab technicians on weekend, evening and night shifts providing continuous healthcare service for the public. All that staff and especially Junior Doctors (JD is a term used to separate them from the Consultants) work in many cases over the end of their day shifts, offering loads of unpaid service to make sure that patient safety is not jeopardised.
What do the new JD contracts involve?
- Safeguards monitoring doctors’ work hours are banned. These safeguards are established to ensure that doctors wouldn’t work continuously for too many hours, in order to avoid mistakes due to excess tiredness that could potentially cost a patient’s life. Removing these safeguards will result in a work overload of more than 70 hours a week on top of an already unacceptably long hour working schedule. In other words, it’s a matter of time to see exhausted doctors looking after patients and consequently poorer quality of care, higher error rate and patient safety being at risk! It’s absolute government hypocrisy to refer to the European Working Time Directive (EWTD) that clearly states the average week working hours to be less than 48, negotiating at the same time with the European Commission its’ ban.
- Removal of protection for maternity leave – Penalising doctors for taking time off. Maternity leave protection is banned, penalising the unnegotiable right of every human being to have a family. On top of that, doctors who work part-time to take care of their families or doctors who get involved in research to promote and improve current medical practice are penalised for doing so.
- Extend JD routine working hours to 10pm including Saturdays. At the moment, NHS staff that provides acute care works 24/7. The final pay is the sum of the basic salary plus the banding which is an additional pay for working during what is considered as unsocial hours, like weekends, bank holidays, nights etc. Extension of the routine working hours will mean, reduction to what is considered as unsocial hours leading to reduction of the banding pay which consists an essential part of the total salary. JDs expect a pay cut of 15-40%, especially those working during these unsocial hours. This will lead to further demoralisation of doctors who feel undervalued and less motivated to work in a health system that doesn’t reward their services.
- JDs are not well off, nor over-paid. Their starting salary is £22.600 per annum whilst the MPs basic salary is £74.000 for considerably fewer working hours per day. Furthermore, they are obliged to cover the cost of their progressing exams themselves, which could be up to thousands of pounds, on top of the huge student debts that they already had in order to cover the cost of their 5-6 years of studies.
- The fact that the British Medical Association (BMA) left the negotiation table is a lie since the government never intended to negotiate. In fact what they did was to announce the main terms, informing the BMA that only the finer points would be under negotiation. In response to this, more than 5000 JDs protested in Downing Street and they will keep doing so across England until this policy is overthrown. Junior Doctors are now left with no other option apart from taking industrial action and go on strike!
- Just one day after Jeremy Hunt announced the new contract terms, over 1600 doctors applied for documents needed to migrate abroad in search of better working conditions like Australia, New Zealand and Canada. Such a development would result in critical reduction of stuff numbers in an over-stretched NHS, with longer waiting hours for GP appointments, surgeries and treatments.
The Junior Contracts plans will not just affect the junior doctors. It will affect each and every one of us who at some point will seek for medical care in the NHS either for us or for our beloved ones. The Junior Contracts plans are just a small sample of this government’s austerity policies for which the NHS is a burden against the “balance of the books” and they need to get rid of it without appreciating the importance of people’s health. It’s these policies we need to fight against, policies that derive from the most aggressive parts of UK’s capital, policies that are directed from the EU and are dramatically affecting people’s lives.
As Greek migrants living in the UK, we have already seen this happening in Greece. Similar or even tougher policies have been imposed on the Greek NHS under the Memoranda terms and leading in a massive influx of junior doctors to Europe including the UK. This dramatic loss of junior doctors had considerably negative impact to the society leading to a further overstretching of the healthcare services in Greece. Similarly, other junior scientists being affected from the recession and austerity policies such as job and salaries cuts migrated as well, depriving the country from it’s scientific workforce. All the previous have given us the experience and confidence to reject and demand the overthrow of those unjust NHS plans that the Tory government is about to impose. We will be joining the JDs fight; we will be chanting with them in the streets, that this IS NOT FAIR, NOT SAFE.
We fully support Junior Doctors’ struggle and we call all the Greek people who have migrated and live in the UK, the working class of Britain and the migrants to stand in solidarity with their struggle! We shall all MARCH with them on the 17th of October in London and all the other English cities that will be joining the fight. Their struggle is our struggle to SAVE OUR NHS!