Contract unfair and unsafe

Doctors Staffing

I remember being a newly qualified junior doctor in the 1970s and working one in two and one in three rotas in my first jobs. This meant working 120 hours a week at times. I remember being so tired that I missed someone who developed diabetic ketoacidosis and another patient with heart failure.

Doctors make mistakes. But doctors make far more when they are tired and fatigued. Working such long hours as I did in those days is now illegal.

The terms and conditions were improved but now the Government want to impose a new contract which will go back to some of the unsafe practices of the past. They want to extend the routine working hours at basic pay to save money and remove the safeguards that prevent employers working their junior doctors more hours than is safe.

This is not a dispute that is primarily about pay. Doctors value the NHS and are committed to giving the best care that they can. They feel this contract is unsafe to patients and unfair to them.

Doctors for the NHS

Their morale is low and they feel grossly undervalued by the Government. Remember that they have recently come out of medical school with debts in excess of £60,000. They then work in training posts as junior doctors for between five and 15 years before they become GPs or consultants. They are the doctors that you first see when you go into hospital.

We already have a seven-day-a-week NHS and junior doctors provide the bulk of this 24/7 care. But in order to do so they need rest and recuperation and time with their families.

When I was a junior doctor almost all those who qualified continued their training and become GPs and consultants. Last year only 58 per cent did so and this number is expected to be less this year. The level of demoralisation is profound. The NHS cannot afford not to have good doctors.

By the time you read this junior doctors may have voted for industrial action. They have already announced the days this will occur. They have done this to fulfil legal obligations but also to give employers plenty of time to plan essential care for those days. GPs will be working and immediate care will be provided by hospitals.

The local Medical Committee which represents all GPs in Sheffield have given their support and consultants are supporting their juniors.

The public and patients need to support them too. Sign petitions, write to your MPs, visit the picket lines at hospitals.

After my time as a junior doctor I became a GP and felt proud and privileged to look after patients and work in the NHS.

A junior doctor in ophthalmology recently emailed saying she could no longer recommend a career in medicine to her medical students and that it broke her heart to say so.

If this contract is imposed on doctors then the next in line will be nurses and all other staff. Then the NHS will have truly been dismantled.

This was first published in the Sheffield Star