THE Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has responded to the backlash over junior doctors’ contracts by promising to increase basic salaries by 11 per cent. He insisted that the pay rise would mean that just one per cent of doctors would lose out under his reforms, due to come into force next August.
His offer surfaced on Wednesday, the day before ballot papers to decide on possible industrial action were due to be sent out by the doctors’ union, the British Medical Association (BMA). The ballot will close in two weeks.
Mr Hunt’s reforms, put forward in August, are to stretch the normal working hours of junior doctors — anyone who is in training and not yet a consultant — to 10 p.m. on weekdays, to include Saturdays. Currently, hours worked after 7 p.m. and at weekends are regarded as “antisocial”, and pay is increased per hour. The pay rise proposed this week will not affect out-of-hours salary rates.
Under the changes, some salaries could be cut by up to 30 per cent, the BMA says, and would affect, in particular, specialities such as accident and emergency, surgery, and acute medicine, which, doctors say, are already understaffed.
Mr Hunt also plans to scrap the financial penalties for hospitals that contract doctors to work more than 48 hours per week.
Last week, more than 200 senior consultants at Great Ormond Street signed an open letter asking the Government to reconsider the plans, which would “threaten the safety of our patients and the wellbeing, motivation and morale” of junior doctors across the UK. The letter states that the new contract will “ultimately harm” patients.
There are 53,000 junior doctors who will be affected. In September, 20,000 of those marched across London in protest.
One surgical registrar who was taking part in the march said that the campaign had united medical professionals across the country.
“We are angry, and hurt that our profession has once again been overlooked,” she said. “While MPs get their pay rise, the people who are already working all hours, seven days a week, to save lives and care for those in need, are being stretched to breaking point.”
She said that the cuts would also have a “significant impact” on her finances, and compromise her mortgage. “Doctors fork out thousands of pounds for courses every year, which are compulsory to continue our training, and, like most of my colleagues, I am already over £35,000 in debt from the cost of medical training.”
As a result, she said: “There will be less incentive for young people to train as medics, particularly GPs, which the UK are desperately short of.”
The changes also mean that doctors who take breaks in training to conduct key medical research, or take maternity leave, will not receive a pay increment on return to work.
Gary Streeter, a Conservative MP and the chairman of Christians in Parliament, said: “Nobody wants to see the privatisation of the NHS, but it has to move with the times, and patients need access to medical care seven days a week.”
A petition calling for the BMA to support strike action has attracted more than 92,000 signatures.