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On the surface of it, the papers would have you believe this dispute is about pay, but the new junior contract represents a complete reorganisation of our working lives. We are already at breaking point: 68-72 hour weeks are the norm for us, our shifts often span 13 gruelling hours, barely stopping for food and they have become busier as the population has got older and the treatment options we can offer have increased.
As well as ruining our sleep patterns, social lives and family lives, long hours are unsafe for our patients. As every militant doctor will tell you we really are militant when it comes to patient safety. Doctors are clear that we have to fight this contract in order to maintain our obligations to our patients.
A junior doctor is any doctor who is not a consultant or a GP. This means we are junior doctors for different periods of time depending on what speciality path we choose to follow. We all complete two foundation years of training straight after graduation. After this we may do anything from three to fifteen years before completing training. Some junior doctors are, therefore, very senior.
Ten years into my career I am now doubting whether I could commit to a further seven years of training under the new contract, and I’m not alone. Long hours, seemingly endless training and professional exams for mediocre pay will quickly cease to be worth it. As Johann Malawana says, if faced with a choice between looking after your child, or going to work on a Saturday night when childcare is even more difficult to find, he would without doubt choose his two year old son. Every sensible doctor I know is currently weighing up the options for a move to Scotland, Australia or another job. Of course these are tough choices and such high stakes are fuelling the fight, so we may yet win.
In November junior doctors in England had an unprecedented ballot result – 98% voted in favour of strike action. This is one step in a unifying process among all junior doctors in the UK over the last few months. Other staff groups have watched in awe as we have gathered support to produce that result.
The demands of the industrial action are to enter back into ‘meaningful negotiation’ with removal of the threat of imposition and the following reassurances:
But as care providers it can be hard to motivate the workforce to walk away from their work and difficult to convince the public it is in their interest for us to do so. This is where we need your help in the coming weeks. We expect the government to do all they can to make us feel the public and patients aren’t with us in order to reduce the numbers taking industrial action – you can help us counter that.
NHS Sell off
The new junior doctor contract is a wholesale attack on the working conditions of junior doctors and it’s a vital step in the government’s ability to sell off NHS services to private providers. We currently still have contracts that have job stability, decent sick pay, the best pensions and recognition of unsociable hours as premium time. The government knows it can’t sell off NHS services with our current contracts – to be profitable the NHS needs a de-skilled and cheaper workforce. As long as we continue to fight for our terms and conditions as workers, we continue to be a spanner in the works of privatisation. As NHS employees we are part of the biggest workforce in the country and are therefore a huge threat to the government’s plans for privatisation.
The loss of pay progression will have a huge financial impact on those working less than full-time, taking parental leave or time out of training, therefore hitting women, parents and carers the hardest. Medicine has recently been on track to become a profession dominated by women (although senior leadership roles and medical academia are still dominated by men) but we’re looking at a huge step backwards in terms of gender equality if these contracts go ahead. This lead Jill Bradley to ask whether the NHS is following a common pattern where once an occupation becomes associated with women’s employment it is suddenly no longer worth so much. A good healthcare system needs a diverse workforce that reflects the society it serves.
Very few people enter work in the NHS without a sense of solidarity to other people. The General Medical Council states that we should ‘make the concern of the patient in front of us our first priority’. The government is eroding our ability to do this. And we are also patients, parents, grandparents, sons and daughters who are invested in a functioning free at the point of access healthcare system.
Healthcare staff have witnessed the results of austerity as people walk through our doors each day. Austerity impacts on people’s health and when social care breaks down the A&E doors remain open. We are paid to give a shit about people’s lives. We are professional advocates. So of course we will fight to protect the NHS and it’s fundamental principles.
We see first-hand how the spin about the failings of the NHS is used to drive society towards the inevitability of a privatised system. The NHS was never perfect but healthcare staff are in the best position to improve services yet at the moment we’re in a struggle for survival. If you wanted to create an efficient, world class healthcare system the NHS would be a good place to start.
We need help to ensure the strike is as strong as the ballot. Help us talk to the public, talk to each other, talk to your family and friends and convince them that this fight matters for the future of the healthcare they receive.
If we are forced to strike come along to a rally, attend your local picket, or find your local #meetthedoctors (pictured). Drink a brew with us. Bring a banner. Make this about a wider struggle. Expose the private profiteers who will inevitably fail in the coming years because healthcare won’t ever be profitable. Let’s stop them by whatever means necessary before we’re all paying compulsory health insurance and being told you can only have the ‘premium’ gold standard healthcare if you pay for it. Jeremy Hunt has labelled us all militant doctors – when society needs militant doctors something has gone seriously wrong.
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