The Mancunion

Britain's biggest student newspaper

Doctors march against drastic changes to junior doctors’ contracts

Doctors marched through Manchester at changes that could see junior doctors lose up to 30 per cent of their earnings

By

On Tuesday, around 1,000 junior doctors and medical practitioners marched through the city centre in protest of contract changes that may see junior doctors lose up to 30 per cent of their earnings.

The protests come as the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt unveiled plans last week to fundamentally alter NHS junior doctors’ contracts. While there are many aspects of the proposed plan being disputed, the key disputes relate to the reclassification of ‘unsociable’ hours.

Currently, ‘normal’ hours for junior doctors are 7am to 7pm Monday to Friday. Any hours worked outside these are classified as ‘unsociable’ and doctors will be paid extra for overtime work.

However the new deal proposed by the government will change ‘normal’ working hours to 7am to 10pm Monday to Saturday. This means that ‘normal’ working hours will be increased by 50 per cent. From this reclassification junior doctors may lose up to 30 per cent of their current earnings, reports BBC News.

While the government claims that the current contract arrangements are “unfair” and “outdated,” the overwhelming response from the medical community has been that these reforms are unsafe and highly damaging to both doctors and patients.

What with heavy budget cuts, an ageing population, and overstretched departments, many doctors already volunteer for long, antisocial, and exhausting hours to fill the gap in services and to provide the best quality of care.

Such is the strain that many doctors are warning that the NHS and its doctors are close to breaking point. After working long hours many NHS doctors claim they are in no state to make potentially life-changing decisions, which if taken wrongly could cause the patient irreparable harm.

Coupled with the high costs of getting through medical school, many claim that the government is creating a disincentive for would-be doctors from pursuing a career in medicine. Many medical practitioners and students already complain of the tremendous costs associated with medical school what with the £9,000 a year tuition fees.

“Who does Jeremy Hunt hope to lure into medicine in future with the prospect of leaving doctors with £100k debt, accommodation to pay for and a salary valued at lowest paid worker?” asked Tameside GP and deputy chair of the British Medical Association (BMA) Dr Kailash Chand.

“The threat to impose a new contract on junior doctors in England goes beyond one country or one branch of practice—it’s an attack on the values we all cherish.

“With the best will in the world, they cannot be held responsible if such dangerously long hours put patients directly at risk.”

Across the country marches have broken out in protest of the proposed contract.

A recent Guardian poll found that an overwhelming 95 per cent of almost 30,000 Health Care Professionals questioned answered “Yes” to the question “Should junior doctors strike over the government’s proposed contract?”

Outside the luxury Midland hotel in Manchester, junior doctors chanted “shame” in unison. David Cameron will be staying at the hotel next weekend for the Conservative Party conference, and many of the protestors will form a core section of the ‘Week of Action’.

Tuheen Huda, an intensive care specialist at Manchester Royal Infirmary yelled at the crowd: “I’m angry at the systematic destruction of the NHS by this government. This change affects everyone—junior doctors, patients and the entire NHS”.

Emma, a spokesperson for NHS trainees in Manchester, said: “I’m going to graduate at least with £84,000 worth of debt. And then I’m going to be punished for having a family, for having children or for working part-time. I have no protection or leeway.”

Dr. Jeremy Whitney from the BMA council called to the protesters: “This is an attack on NHS and an attack on the nation. Why would [Jeremy Hunt and David Cameron] care about the NHS—they can afford private hospitals. Every doctor across the country is backing you, fight against this!”

In response, one protester shouts: “We can’t bend over! We’re not a dead pig, we can fight this!”