Hospitals coping well after being quieter than expected
Doctors across England have begun their second day of all-out strikes in protest at the government’s forced imposition of new contracts demanding doctors work longer hours.
Junior doctors make up a third of all of the UK’s qualified doctors, and the 48-hour stoppage is the third walk-out since health secretary Jeremey Hunt has said he would enforce the contracts regardless of doctors’ concerns.
However, yesterday and today’s strike is the first complete walkout of both routine and emergency care in opposition to the contracts.
It is the first time such action has been taken in the NHS’s history.
Hospitals reportedly coped well with the lack of doctors after warnings of the strikes saw fewer patients admitted.
The strike lasts from 8.00am until 17.00pm today, with consultants and nurses providing emergency cover.
In addition, hospitals and junior doctors have agreed measures that allow the hospitals to call junior doctors to return to work in the event of an emergency.
Why are doctors striking?
Junior doctors make up a third of all of the UK’s doctors. After the cost of university fees for between five to six years of training, junior doctors currently have a starting salary of £22,636. This rises to £28,000 in the second year of working. Only those at consultant level are considered non-junior doctors, and many doctors spend their entire careers as “junior doctors” regardless of their experience.
Junior doctors are currently paid slightly more for working anti-social hours (currently classified as outside 07:00 to 19:00 Monday to Friday) on top of the basic salary, but they also work massive amounts of overtime which largely goes unrecorded.
Doctors in the NHS are already understaffed and overworked, which has sent stress levels soaring. Combined with relatively low pay (compared to other countries) doctors training in the UK are increasingly choosing to work overseas where conditions are better.
The government’s forced contract changes are actively making life worse for doctors.
And doctors argue that longer hours and a tired workforce will compromise the quality of care they can deliver to patients.
The new contract changes the anti-social hours to outside 07:00 to 22:00 Monday to Saturday, making Saturday between 07:00 and 22:00 part of a junior doctor’s normal working week.
So it is unsurprising that 98% of doctors balloted by the highly respectable British Medical Association (BMA) voted for strike action.