Proposed changes to working hours, unsociable hours, and pay have England’s junior doctors stepping away from their stethoscopes to let the government know that these changes aren’t acceptable.
Junior doctors have dealt with several issues in recent years, including changes to resident requirements for first-years and salary raises below the inflation rate. These issues, and many others, have led to strikes — most recently in December, January and February. Patient care could suffer if these actions continue, which is why junior doctors need the support of the public to win their case.
Who Are Junior Doctors?
Junior doctors are an essential and indispensible part of the healthcare workforce in the United Kingdom, but currently those in England are facing damaging alterations to their contracts.
Junior doctors are medical school graduates who are currently undergoing their general practitioner (GP) or specialist training. They make up a full 1/3 of the country’s medical workforce. This broad term can be used to describe anyone from new graduates to individuals who have spent 10 years helping the public as they learn to become specialists in their fields.
Junior doctors also tend to be the ones you would meet if you go to a hospital on the weekend — the majority of weekend hours are normally staffed by them.
Problems With Pay
One of the biggest changes that our junior doctors are protesting is the change in their pay. The new contract states that it is increasing basic pay for junior doctors by 13.5%, and this also includes pay protection for three years for existing doctors. While it may seem like a good thing, the raise comes at the expense of other benefits, namely hours that doctors work and changes to unsociable hours.
This raise will also mean slower raises for new junior doctors and doctors who begin their career after the 3 year promised pay protection has expired.
Changes to Unsociable Hours
Unsociable hours are hours where doctors are paid extra for the work that they do, ranging anywhere from an additional 30% on top of their base pay to double-time. Previously, overnight hours and weekends (Saturday and Sunday) were considered unsociable hours and junior doctors were paid accordingly.
Now, Saturdays are no longer considered unsociable, meaning that these dedicated doctors will do the same or more work for less pay. While it lowers overall salary costs and makes it easier for hospitals to keep more doctors staffed on the weekends, it could cause a potential earnings loss of between 15-30% for those who work Saturday and Sunday.
Many people argue that these changes are a great way to create a 24/7 NHS. The NHS, or National Health Service, is the UK based tax-funded program that provides healthcare for all citizens of the United Kingdom. The only problem with the argument for a 24/7 NHS is that the NHS is already a 24 hour a day, 7 day a week, 365 day a year program, charged with the arduous and often unrewarding task of keeping sick and injured individuals alive.
Other supporters of this change argue that there is a higher death rate on the weekends, with political leaders misquoting articles stating that you have a higher chance of dying if you’re admitted on a Sunday than you would if you were admitted to a hospital on a Wednesday. Some have accused junior doctors of potentially shirking their duties if there were a major event or emergency that required their services.
It might appear to an outsider that the government officials who are directly involved in this strike event are trying to make the junior doctors look bad to the public, spinning the news so it seems that all they care about is money. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Weapons of Last Resort
Striking may seem like a way to get what you want from the powers-that-be, but when it comes to the medical profession, we’re not dealing with disgruntled workers who do their job for a paycheck. Instead, we’re dealing with selfless individuals who put the wellbeing of others above their own and who specifically went into this line of work to help people.
This is not about the money.
The current strikes are a way for the junior doctors of the country to make their point: They’re saying this is not right and it needs to change.
Junior doctors deserve to get paid for the work that they do, whether it’s treating a sniffle, sewing up a wound or saving a life. They deserve and have earned the right to a safe, healthy working environment — and that environment is compromised by the new contract being imposed on all of them. New restrictions could lead to overtired, overworked doctors, mistakes, and even patient deaths in the worst case.
We need to stand behind our junior doctors. We have always counted on them, and now they need our support. If we can make sure that our junior doctors are healthy, happy and safe, don’t we have the duty to do so?
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