I feel compelled to write another post about the junior doctors' strike, because it has been said that public support for the junior doctors is waning and I think this is largely attributable to the way the media has (or to be precise has not) been covering it. So much seems to be left out of the media reports, that no wonder the public are getting tired of the whole saga. I have been privileged to see it from the other side, as some of you may know, my daughter is one of those junior doctors. So, here are a few facts you may not be aware of.......
What is a junior doctor?
Many people are under the impression that a junior doctor is a leftist young thing straight out of university who can't be bothered to put in a day's work so soon after being a slob at uni. The media doesn't help by only interviewing doctors who look as if they should still be at school let alone having gone through uni. They are depicted at the picket lines chanting "Save our NHS" like zombies.... not a good way to win over the public (BMA to note).
The fact is a junior doctor is any doctor who has not yet reached consultant level. As it can take a minimum of 7 or 8 years to reach consultant, junior doctors are therefore anyone aged from 24 to in many cases someone in their 40s (Because medicine is such a difficult course to get into in the first place, many have had to take degrees in other subjects first and are in their 30s when they graduate in medicine, so can be in their 40s when they reach consultant level.) So junior doctors are often married, with children, with mortgages and with huge responsibilities.
Is the strike all about pay?
No. Pay has never been the reason why the strike was started in the first place. Junior doctors have never asked for a pay rise, even though the media keeps banging on about it. The pay issue has only arisen because in fact the new contract, which Jeremy Hunt seems blindly hell-bent on pushing through, actually means they will get a drop in pay. A junior doctor fresh out of university gets a basic pay of £23,000. A lot less than most graduates in other disciplines can expect as their starting salary, I might add - even shop assistants earn more than that. The young doctors can earn a bit more if they work on-call which means they work additional evening shifts and weekends floating around the hospital to deal with any emergencies on any of the wards they are not normally assigned to. This can sometimes nudge their pay up to somewhere near £30,000, but it depends how many on-call shifts they are asked to do, so it is not a salary they can rely on. Jeremy Hunt's contract will do away with the extra on-call payments and just give an 11% pay rise on the basic 23,000. You don't need to be a good mathematician to work out that this means a drop in pay in real terms.
The hours are long and morale is low.
There is no such thing as set hours in the medical profession. Doctors can hardly walk away from a sick patient when the clock shows it should be the end of their shift and their aching bones and frazzled minds are telling them it's time to go home. So they stay, because they care and want to see a job through to the end. Usually the shifts are a minimum of ten hours and in some cases longer. I have known my daughter to work 14 hours, most often without a lunch break, often without any more than a grabbed sandwich at a desk while typing up a patients notes. On some occasions she has had no time even for a toilet break! Keeping up a 10- or 14-hour shift is bad enough for a few days, but when you are on-call at weekends too, it can mean working 12 days in one run (Mon- Fri plus the weekend plus Mon-Fri the following week). If you worked that sort of shift length and run in any job, it would make you tired. You could make mistakes. Maybe overprice a customer, drop a box of expensive stock on the floor, use the wrong form to order some stationery. But in medicine? Make a mistake and you could be killing someone. My daughter has spoken of trying to calculate a prescription to give a patient based on so many mg per kg of bodyweight. She has said a simple calculation when you are tired is like thinking through mud.
So what is the strike about?
Jeremy Hunt wants a 24/7 NHS. They already have it. It's called A&E. If you are really sick or dying, weekday or weekend, day or night, A&E is open to receive you. Unfortunately it is much abused by people who cannot be bothered to go to their GP, do not have an arm hanging on by a mere thread and just need paracetamol. For all other (non- A&E) services, there is admittedly not a 24/7 service, but then you would need to recruit more doctors and the support staff of nurses, physiotherapists, radiographers etc etc) which the NHS cannot afford. Jeremy Hunt wants the existing doctors to cope with even more workload to cover this extra service. With the hours they already work, there is no capacity to add on more working hours, unless you expect your doctor to never get any sleep at all. Forget them having any hint of a social life or seeing their families. If man and wife are both junior doctors they hardly see one another or their children at all.
People have been quick to accuse the doctors of abusing their position, saying they are privileged, they work in a profession and professions simply do not strike. It is a calling. But I would like to see any other profession that overworks anywhere near the same hours for such low pay.Most professions are appreciated and paid accordingly. It is rather the doctors who are being abused because of their goodwill to carry on regardless. The bosses know that the junior doctors will not walk away from a sick patient. Yes, they are striking and it may seem they don't care about the patients, but is because they care that they are striking. It is their only way of getting people to sit up and take notice of what they are going through.They cannot go on with the high demand in hours without the patients suffering. Even one fatal mistake made while the doctors are too tired, would be a mistake too many and the public would soon jump on the bandwagon to condemn a tired doctor's decision, if something went terribly wrong.
So next time you hear someone going on about the doctor's strike in a negative way, please remember this and put them right. Support the doctors rather than condemn them. If we are not careful, Jeremy Hunt will drive the NHS into the ground and where will we be then?