Posted on Tue 24 Nov 2015 at 21:01 by Luke Pilot
A few weeks ago, I attended a demonstration in Birmingham. Among the hubbub of the annual Christmas Market and the scrum for gifts in the Bullring, over 700 people stood either in scrubs, lab coats or solidarity at a protest against the new proposed Junior Doctors’ contract. Several chants and passionate speeches were given (including one by a student from Warwick Medical School) and emotions were high, with many tears being shed and tempers becoming frayed. Why? Because, put simply, this new contract is unsafe, unfair and unjust.
We have been discussing this at the SU recently after many students approached us with concerns about Jeremy Hunt’s attempts to change the contract and several breakdowns in negotiation with the British Medical Association (BMA). Hunt’s proposals include:
1. Changing the ‘standard time’ that Junior Doctors work from 7am to 7pm, Monday to Friday, to 7am to 10pm, Monday to Saturday – thus raising the overall standard time Junior Doctors would work from 60 hours to a staggering 90 hours per week. Hours worked outside the current standard time are paid at a premium, to compensate for the loss of time Junior Doctors would spend with family and at home. However, this change clearly means that doctors’ time is valued less and impacts on the attractiveness of a medical career through a real-terms pay cut of up to 40%.
2. Changing the pay progression of trainees. Currently, trainees see a yearly increase in their pay to reflect the experience gained over that year, but the new contract would see pay only increasing when trainees move on to the next stage of training. This is detrimental to trainees who work part-time or take leave, as this progression will inevitably be slower. It will also disproportionately affect women who take maternity leave.
3. Removal of safeguards to prevent trainees working dangerously long hours. The new contract sees the removal of this safeguard and does not propose a new mechanism to enforce protections and ensure employers adhere to these rules (which the current contract does). There are also plans to only allow one 20-minute break every 6 hours, meaning that trainees could work an 11-hour shift and only have one 20-minute break. This will result in exhausted, over-worked doctors, which is extremely dangerous when treating patients.
We at the SU are hugely concerned by these changes - not just because 7% of Warwick’s student population studies with Warwick Medical School and faces a substantial challenge to their wellbeing, livelihoods and future careers, but because these changes will be of clear detriment to the NHS, a service which a vast proportion of the country relies on for medical care.
So, what’s happening in response to these changes?
· In the recent ballot called by the BMA, 98% of medics voted in favour of industrial action. This is an unprecedented vote in favour of strike action which indicates just how drastic these proposed changes are - it demonstrates just how strongly public sector workers feel about this attack and how important it is that they organise to resist these proposals. While medical students cannot technically participate in any resulting industrial action, they can take a day off to be a part of demonstrations and picket lines.
· This Autumn’s All Student Meeting (ASM), our main democratic body for producing new Students’ Union policy just voted for us to campaign alongside our medical students against these changes to the Junior Doctors’ contract.
· Representatives from Warwick Medical School have met with Jim Cunningham MP, while members of the SU have met with Chris White MP to discuss the matter.
· Medical students are encouraged to write to their local MP asking them to voice their concerns about the contract in Parliament. Use this tool run by the BMA to send an email and get your voice heard.
I refuse to rose-tint this: these changes aren’t just unfair and unsafe, they are an insult to some of the most dedicated and altruistic public sector workers, our trainee doctors. It is my belief that these changes represent the first wave of an attack on all staff in the NHS - an organisation we are all incredibly fortunate to have, and one I am exceptionally proud of. For this government to slowly dismantle this organisation one group of workers at a time and threaten the safety of anyone using this vital service is horrifying. For let there be no doubt that these measures will result in tired doctors who make mistakes - mistakes which, in the context of healthcare, may cost lives.
Healthcare is one of humanity’s uniting basic principles: if not a doctor or a medical student, everyone will be a patient at some point. I therefore hope you join me in expressing unequivocal solidarity with our medical students and Junior Doctors, since this is not just their fight – it’s everybody’s.
Follow updates from the BMA and the contract on their website: http://bma.org.uk/working-for-change/in-depth-junior-and-consultant-contract/junior-doctor-contract-negotiations-home
Keep up to date and get involved with the Warwick students’ campaign by joining the Facebook group ‘Warwick Students Support Junior Doctors’.