Junior doctors work seven days per week, they are the backbone of medical care in hospitals every day, at weekends and at night. I have had a number of emails from them complaining that, under the provisions of the proposed new contract, they will have to work harder and for less pay. I assure them that they won’t – that is an absolute guarantee that no-one will lose out compared to their current contract.
This Government was elected on a mandate to deliver a 7-day NHS and ensure care is the same quality across the week. At present, if you are admitted to hospital at the weekend your chances of dying are 15% higher. Illness does not take weekends off, it is essential that we so organise the NHS so that it doesn’t either.
Changing this means reforming the current contracts – put in place by Labour (for junior doctors in 2000, and for consultants in 2003). Last week in the Commons the Government guaranteed that not a single junior doctor will see their pay cut compared to their current contract. On the contrary, they will get same pay as they receive under their current contracts; but with a reduction in the maximum number of hours that can be worked in any one week (in order to end the unsafe practice of tired doctors treating patients).
This is not a cost cutting exercise. We are not seeking to save a penny from the junior doctors’ pay bill. We want the new contract to improve patient safety by better supporting a seven day NHS. For junior doctors, this means some increase in hours which aren’t payable as overtime, but backed up with a significant increase in basic pay.
Our ambition for the NHS to be the safest health care system in the world, is underpinned by reducing, not increasing, the number of hours junior doctors work each week.
This is a fairer deal for doctors. The new contract will mean no junior doctor is required to work more than an average of 48 hours per week, with tougher limits on unsafe hours including a new maximum working week of 72 hours, and a new maximum shift pattern of four consecutive night shifts and five long day shifts, compared with the current contract which permits more than 90 hours a week, 7 consecutive night shifts and 6 long day shifts. It will also better reward pay progression based on achievement and experience.
To threaten strike action is bizarre in the circumstances. Beyond the present dispute however, doctors should think about the profound implications of such a step, and the consequences for patient safety. By adopting the mores of the unionised factory shop floor, thet would abandon the standards of their profession.
It is time that the British Medical Council got back to the negotiating table, and inform its members of what really is on offer.