Doctors have been left outraged by the health secretary Jeremy Hunt’s announcement that he plans to impose a new contract on junior doctors, despite strong opposition from many in the profession.
Hunt’s move came after the government failed to reach a deal with the British Medical Association (BMA), the union representing junior doctors. Since then the health secretary has defended his plans, blaming the BMA for inflaming the dispute.
So, with new contracts due to be introduced at the beginning of August, what will junior doctors do next? Is an all-out strike on the cards? Will some leave the profession? Or move away? Or perhaps there is some support for the move. Here’s what those on the frontline told us:
‘After 20 years, I am leaving over this’
Jeremy Hunt has shown utter disdain for not just the medical profession, but for nurses and paramedics too.
I am not in favour of an all-out strike; it would harm opinion of doctors who retain more public trust than politicians at present. My next move is to leave medicine – which is a huge shame as I have spent 20 years of my adult life training to be a super specialist in paediatric cardiac intensive care. But I have a family and more self respect than to accept an employer who treats me like a naughty schoolchild.
– Junior doctor, 37 from London
‘I am moving to Wales where the old contracts still exist’
The date 11 February 2016 was a calamitous one for the medical profession and the NHS in England. We had a contract imposed on us for the first time in our history, one which 98% of BMA members (who represent 37,000 of the 55,000 junior doctors in the UK) voted to strike against. It felt like my employer telling me, “You can either sign the contract or not work at all”.
Personally, I am going to move to Wales, where the old contract still exists. I know colleagues who are leaving the profession or going to Australia. In terms of choosing specialties, I have also decided not to become a medical registrar. This is the junior doctor who leads the medical team at nighttime and weekends, and who has responsibility for the care of typically 30 to 80 patients during a 12-hour shift. It is already, in my opinion, the hardest job in the hospital.
To think that they will be doing their antisocial hours for a significantly lower salary, and that the new contract removes existing safeguards to protect junior doctors from being overworked by hospitals, makes me no longer want to do this job.
– Junior doctor, 29 from south east London
‘I support an all-out strike’
In light of Mr Hunt’s contract imposition the BMA has to activate its own nuclear option. I suggest a five-day strike (9am-5pm – emergency cover only) followed by another five-day all-out strike if Mr Hunt does not accept the latest BMA offer. If this is not successful I would suggest a one week strike per month until the government is prepared to listen. This is a fight for patients and all NHS staff as this contract is only the beginning.
– Junior doctor, 39
‘Jeremy Hunt occupies the moral high ground here’
I am part of a cohort of trainees for whom the contract is an unambiguous benefit. I work office hours and my salary is determined solely by the level of basic pay. I do not receive a banding and so my salary is only two-thirds of that received by comparable trainees in clinical specialties.
The 13.5% pay increase is a step in the right direction. It begins to correct a longstanding imbalance in junior doctor pay. The previous contract gave too much weight to out-of-hours pay and the rate of basic pay was neglected. The fact that the rate of basic pay for newly qualified doctors is as low as £23,000 per year is a scandal, but it is a direct result of a previous generation’s decision to build up a pay package built around disproportionately well-rewarded out-of-hours work.
It saddens me that the only person prepared to defend the interests of doctors like me was the secretary of state. I am opposed to the unilateral imposition of a contract, but on balance, given the same circumstances, faced with an intransigent and belligerent group of well-to-do doctors, who sadly seem incapable of defending the interests of their least well-paid colleagues, I would have done exactly the same. Hunt occupies the moral high ground here.
– Junior doctor, 30
‘I might go and teach in a private school’
Many of us felt the strain on our health and our families was too great, and were already considering leaving. We thought the health secretary realised this, and were naively expecting a big thank you for keeping the NHS afloat and delivering a first class health service under desperate conditions.
My next plan is to either go to New Zealand or leave medicine altogether and go and teach in a private school. I have an Oxbridge PhD and teaching experience.
– Junior doctor, 33
‘I hope the BMA lets its members vote on the new contracts’
It is unfortunate that the contract is being imposed without reaching full agreement. However the proposed new contract as a whole has many positive changes – and it is clear that the talks with the BMA have been productive despite the remaining few sticking points that were not agreed upon prior to the imposition.
I am not thinking of leaving at this stage but think the BMA should now allow members to take in the proposals and then poll to gauge the response.
– Junior doctor, 26 from Lemington Spa
‘I came from Pakistan and never dreamed I’d face this here’
I came from Pakistan to the UK in June 2014 to join the NHS with lots of goodwill and hope that I would be treated fairly. In Pakistan doctors have no infrastructure for their pay scale or any protection over working hours. This is the reason Pakistani doctors have to strike every now and then for their rights. I never ever dreamed that in the UK I would face the same situation. Sorry to say but it’s even more disgusting here that I am striking for not an increment of pay but against a decrement. It’s a shame for the UK.
– Junior doctor, 34 from Carshalton
‘As a medical student I am already thinking of leaving’
What terrifies me is that experienced medical professionals in England have now lost the right to some sense of justly earned influence, and I am simply not prepared to spend the rest of my working life at the whim of short sighted ideology, dependent only on prevailing economic winds and political priorities.
What should terrify the Guardianistas is that I am by no means alone. Morale among my cohort of students is at rock bottom. I suppose that we are fortunate not to to be stuck halfway through 10 years of specialty training and to have many options still open, but I would posit that it is those of us with other options that the NHS really needs to keep.
– Medical student, 28 from London