In response to sustained criticism of his attempts to change the contracts of junior doctors, altering the definition of “unsociable hours” and allegedly leading to a pay cut of around 30 per cent.
The government states the current contract is “outdated” and needs to change to help ease the NHS’s seven-day demand. The government’s proposal seeks to increase junior doctor’s pay by 11 per cent, but this comes at a cost. The new contract attempts to increase the amount of junior doctors’ weekly hours that are deemed sociable, meaning fewer hours are counted as overtime to save on the cost of wages.
The Mancunion recently reported demonstrations against the Minister’s proposals, noting medical staff protesting in Manchester and London at the end of September. The marches seem to have generated some reconsideration as last week Mr Hunt announced that he is open to negotiations with the BMA to avoid doctors striking.
In a letter written to 50,000 junior doctors last Thursday, Hunt requests they re-look at the proposals and hopes they realise that the contract “is good for doctors”. The letter was publicised a day before the ballot to strike opened, in a last attempt to persuade doctors not to take direct action.
However the new proposal has not come without further criticism. Junior doctor Mary Aspinall has calculated what the new contract would mean for her in what has become a popular post on Facebook. She concludes that the new rules would impose a £737 pay drop every month. After Hunt’s re-work of the contract though, she looses £280 per month.
Junior doctors’ make up the majority of weekend staff in the NHS and are already renowned for being over-worked and poorly paid, compared to their colleagues in higher ranks. Doctors argue that working excessively long hours will put patient’s lives, and therefore the NHS, at risk. They also note that junior doctors have not been given a rise in pay for six years. Further, it is feared that the contract may put off students from choosing medical careers in the NHS in the future; there is no incentive to over £60,000 worth of student fees plus long hours with no extra pay.
Rarely has the UK witnessed doctors being on strike. If members do agree to strike, doctors will still have to work but only in cases of emergency. During the 2012 doctors’ strike regarding pensions, GP appointments and non-emergency operations were affected. Similar services could be affected again. The BMA’s ballot to strike is open for two weeks and closes on the 19th of November.