By now you will have heard about the new contract being imposed by the government on our junior doctors. Only, that is, if you use social media. For some bizarre reason this new development in Jeremy Hunt’s NHS “improvements” has gone largely unnoticed and undocumented by the media, with only the occasional article here or there, most of which are opinion pieces by junior doctors themselves. Whilst writing this article, I scrolled through the Health section of the BBC News app, finding an article describing how NHS service quality was “location dependent” (I’m sorry, have you been living under a rock for the last 30 years?), and another detailing how Tai Chi could soon be prescribed to patients, yet absolutely nothing mentioning the new contract changes. Rather than write a ten-page rant, which, believe me, I could do, I thought it might be more useful to let you know exactly what these contract changes will mean, and what you can do about it.
Key points of the DDRB report:
- DDRB = Review Body on Doctors’ and Dentists’ Renumeration. Consisting of a geographer, a banker, 3 HR professionals, an accountant and 2 economists, i.e. no one from the medical profession.
- They advise the government on rates of pay for doctors and dentists.
- They have advocated removal of the banding system, which could result in a 30% decrease in pay for junior doctors.
- “Social hours” will be changed from 0800 – 1900 Monday to Friday to 0700 – 2200 Monday to Saturday, which means that working at 9pm on Saturday night will be equivalent to working a Tuesday afternoon.
- GP trainees will lose their premium and be paid the same as hospital trainees, contributing further to the recruitment issues in the specialty.
- It has been recommended that where trainees take a career break, such as to pursue an academic degree or for maternity leave, they will not receive a pay increment on their return. This will deter trainees from pursuing an academic career or starting families during training.
Many have been asking where the BMA is in the middle of all of this. They rejected the suggestions outright, however the government have accepted and plan to implement the report anyway. You have likely seen numerous petitions circulating calling for strike action, and while the BMA has taken the calls seriously, it is important to understand that these petitions in themselves have no real effect. In order for industrial actions to be taken there are certain legal processes that must be adhered to, and there must first be a ballot to determine whether the majority of union members want strike action to be taken.
In the meantime, however, there are lots of things we students can do to show the government how strongly we feel about the situation:
- Keep signing petitions. I know I said they don’t really make a difference, however they certainly can’t hurt.
- I’m not going to be patronizing and say “remember the good old days before emails… pens, papers, stamps etc etc.”, BUT there is something to be said for letter writing, especially in politics. Please consider writing a letter to your MP, or even Jeremy Hunt himself – it doesn’t have to say much and can even, if you really want, involve some expletives, but the act of doing it can show our government just how strongly we feel about this.
- Your MP can be found at http://www.theyworkforyou.com. You can write to them at: House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA
- Jeremy Hunt is the current Secretary of State for Health. You might have heard of him and his unfortunately easily adaptable surname. You can write to him at: Department of Health, Richmond House, 79 Whitehall, London, SW1A 2NS
- NHS Employers are hosting a series of open meetings to discuss the proposed contract changes, and the Manchester meeting will take place on Tuesday September 29th. Further details can be found by searching for the event on Facebook. Free tickets are all sold out, but going along anyway can’t hurt – if enough of us are there (peacefully, we want people to respect us) we can’t help but make an impression.
- In the words of one of my friends, “Jezza Hunt ain’t checking your Facebook feed”, and this is very true. By all means continue to share things on Facebook, because they help to show our plight to our non-medic friends, and can help encourage them to get involved, but please don’t let this be the only thing you do! Tell your friends exactly what this will mean for their future as well as ours, and encourage them to get writing too.
At the end of the day, we are the future of medicine and these changes will have a huge impact on our careers. If they go through we can expect more hours, less pay, and will likely lose a large number of our colleagues to Australia and New Zealand (who can blame them, there are hobbits and elves there). When something like this happens it’s very easy to think that we are helpless and have no influence on the government, but that just isn’t true.
The Faculty of Medical and Human Sciences in the University of Manchester has 6000 undergraduates, 3000 postgraduates and 2000 staff members. Bearing in mind that there are around 6000 medical students accepted a year across the 32 medical schools in the UK, it’s fair to say we are a huge medical school and can carry a lot of clout if we choose to. It may be naïve, but with those numbers I refuse to believe we are powerless in our own futures.