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12 January 2016

Junior doctors on why they are on strike

We catch up with some junior doctors striking outside the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel, East London.

By Stephanie Boland

Akhtar, GP registrar

Why are you on strike?

“The contract isn’t fair on junior doctors. Overall we get less pay and more hours, and more antisocial hours.”

Are you worried about the safety of your patients?

“Absolutely I’m worried. I’ve been working for the last four or five years. If you saw the amount of hours we do, we don’t get breaks often, we have to stay longer for handover; you always do more hours than are counted. We get exhausted after a 13-hour shift; sometimes we do five days of 12-hour shifts, and now we have to do seven days. It’ll affect me and I believe patients as well. At the end of the day, if you’re tired, it can affect your decision-making.”

Emily, paediatrics

Why are you on strike?

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“Solidarity. We’ve got to stay together in this. It’s really unsafe and stretching services too far: what we have at the moment is a five-day schedule, and they want to stretch that to seven days without adding any other services like radiographers, porters or nurses. We’re not going to get the back-up, so we’re not going to be able to provide a very safe service.”

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What about the government’s offer of an 11 per cent payrise?

“I think that’s quite misleading. What they’re doing is cutting our pay for antisocial hours – that at the moment makes up about a third of our pay. It’s particularly going to affect the specialists who work the longest and most antisocial hours. They’re going to see the biggest cut. There’ll be a payrise for a small proportion of doctors, but only those working nine-to-five.”

“At paediatrics, we work a lot of antisocial hours and a lot of nights. It’s going to hit us really hard, as well as A&E and anaesthetists; these are the specialities that are really hard to recruit to anyway. With the pay cut as well, it’s going to be hard to recruit people.”

What would you say to the public, some of whom are affected by these strikes?

“It’s difficult to know what to believe in the media, and there’s a lot of spin from the government . . . but there’s a lot of information available about the contract changes. I think looking at it will show that they are actually unfair.

I know there’s a lot of criticism about us striking as well, but we don’t want to be on strike. It’s for the longer-term future of the NHS we’re doing it. We want to have an NHS for our grandchildren – and further.”

Santal, orthopedics

Why are you on strike?

“To support the junior doctors. I think the government proposals are unfair; the junior doctors are not asking for a hike in their wages. They’re just doing their work, and I think what Jeremy Hunt is proposing is unfair and totally unfair to the general public.”

How would you respond to Jeremy Hunt’s claims that he’s offering you a payrise?

“That is an absolute con. He’s actually proposing a cut in the wages. As everyone knows, junior doctors work incredibly long hours; sometimes half their hours are antisocial, sometimes a third – it depends on the department. Because of that, there’s a banding of pay. He’s going to abolish that and change the weekend hours, so overall there’s going to be a big pay cut.

He’s fooling the public, trying to push these things through. We just want to be left alone.”

Is there a patient safety concern?

“Certainly. This is the starting step; if he follows this through there’s going to be an unfair working environment for doctors. They’re going to be tired and exhausted, and that’ll affect their care of the patients. It’s not going to be safe. We’re not just concerned with doctor’s pay, it’s about delivering safe healthcare.”

“I think if the public look at the figures for themselves, they’ll know the government is trying to mislead people.”

Tom, paediatrics

Why are you on strike?

“It’s really because Jeremy Hunt is trying to impose this new contract, which is unsafe for patients; that’s the point. And it’s unfair for us doctors, as well.”

Are hours and conditions a primary concern?

“It’s primarily about conditions and safety. Of course, it’s about money as well; we all have to do a job and support our families. But the main factor here is safety, and the longevity of the NHS. If things are going to carry on the way they are, they’re going to break the NHS.”

Nabil, trainee surgeon

Why are you on strike?

“It’s not about cash for us. It’s about safety, and about making sure that going forward as a professional body we feel able to do our job.

I’m quite a senior trainee now, and it’s about the medical students coming through. Only people who can afford to be doctors will go to medical school.

Do you want Tim Nice-But-Dim taking out your appendix? I don’t.”

What about the hours?

“As a surgical trainee, I choose to work really long hours. But no one should force me to do that, and getting forced to do that feels pretty miserable.”