This is why junior doctors are protesting
On Saturday 20,000 doctors, nurses and patients marched across London to Parliament Square. The junior doctors’ contract reforms have caused concern throughout the profession. The hardest working junior doctors in A&E are preparing for a massive pay cut. Trainee GPs look to lose up to 30% of their salary. The safeguards that prevent mistakes being made when doctors work dangerously long hours will be removed. Those doctors working less than full time because of family commitments, or who chose to take up further training in different specialities, will receive a reduction in their future pay they never expected. We are understandably worried.
It’s the Government’s response that has turned our anxieties into fury and outrage. Doctors do not consider industrial action often. Doctors seldom march on Parliament. But when we raised our concerns with the Health Secretary, instead of listening, he told us we were being misled by our union, the British Medical Association.
We are our union, Jeremy, and doctors stand together against this contract, and against you. I watched as tens of thousands of us stood shouting for your resignation. My name sits alongside those of 220,000 others petitioning the Government to fire you.
Jeremy Hunt is not a stupid man, despite his record. He knows exactly what he is doing, and a strategy of wilful ignorance coupled with fragmenting those who oppose him by encouraging bickering and infighting might have worked well. Doctors are not typical unionists - making so many big egos shout with one voice can be tough. But this contract debate is different. There are so many wrongs, so clearly apparent, that we cannot let this lie.
The contract will push new trainees away from specialities that will collapse unless more doctors choose to work there. It will break A&E and decimate general practice, just at the time when a seven day service is being thrusted onto the NHS without a thought to how this could possibly be staffed or funded.
There’s a dirtier truth to this new contract too. Junior doctors have options. It's only in England where the new changes will be imposed: the Welsh and Scottish NHS have rightly rejected them. This means doctors don't need to emigrate to Australia to get a better deal.
A GP trainee facing 30% less pay in Newcastle could work in Edinburgh and get the same money they would right now. An A&E doctor in Bristol could move to Cardiff, where they know they'll be paid properly for working weekends. This contract means Jeremy Hunt will be responsible for an exodus of talent from the English NHS. Undervaluing doctors twists the knife in the back of the health service.
The NHS will not survive in its current form with the new contract - too many doctors will leave, too few new trainees will want to work in the jobs we desperately need to fill. Maybe that’s what this Government wants. Doctors can be their scapegoat while they create an unrecognisable health service, no longer universal, no longer comprehensive, no longer the NHS.