A final-year medical student who is due to qualify as a doctor when the government plans to roll out contentious reforms to junior contracts has said the consequences will be “disastrous” for patients.
Jahnvi Karia, who is studying medicine at Imperial College London, told Eastern Eye she was concerned about her future and was even considering applying for jobs outside of medicine.
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt plans to reclassify the normal working week of junior doctors to include Saturdays and late evenings, a move critics say would mean pay cuts of up to 30 per cent due to the loss of extra payments for working unsociable hours.
Hunt says the changes, which would only apply to doctors in England, would boost patient care by making it affordable for hospitals to put more doctors on weekend rosters and would benefit doctors by reducing their weekly working hours.
However, Karia said: “Staff and doctors have said the workforce is demoralised. It’s driving people out of training jobs which we will need.
“We work hard to get to the point that we have. You have to be high-achieving; we think we are going into a worthwhile and stable profession but that is changing. It doesn’t feel like the government values me.
“Some doctors said to me: ‘Have you applied for other jobs?’ It’s driving doctors out of the profession as it’s no longer sustainable. The government doesn’t see how much these doctors sacrifice going above the call of duty, working over-time.
“Patients will end up bearing the brunt of it, everyone gets tired. It’s patient’s lives we are dealing with – it’s disastrous. I’m very concerned about my future and what I want to do.
“The way it’s going, it looks like they want to privatise it (the NHS) and that’s such a shame.”
Around 20,000 doctors protested over the proposed changes to pay and working conditions in London last Saturday (17). Protesters dressed in medical scrubs chanted “Hunt must go” and “Not safe, not fair, Jeremy doesn’t care”.
The British Medical Association (BMA) is preparing to ballot its members for a potential strike on the issue, while Hunt has urged doctors to return to the negotiating table.
Dr Kailash Chand, deputy chair of the BMA and a retired GP, told Eastern Eye: “As far as Jeremy Hunt is concerned, he doesn’t value what the NHS is all about.
“If we are going to mislead and not support junior doctors who are tomorrows GPs and consultants, that means you are undermining the whole NHS.
“Junior doctors who we spend almost a quarter of a million (pounds) on to train are leaving by droves, for Australia and Canada, where they get four/five times the salary they can get here.
“Looking at the junior doctors’ starting salary, which is anything around £22,000, you are not even treating them at the level of tube drivers. How can you justify that?”
Latifa Patel, who is in her fifth year of training as a junior doctor and was also the chair of the BMA Junior Doctors Conference 2013-2015, said: “The government has outlined a plan for seven day services but omitted any detail on how this will be achieved.
“Junior doctors throughout the UK have made their views clear. Under no circumstance will we allow the government to put our safety at risk, our patient’s safety at risk and our NHS at risk.
“Make our breaks further apart, our hours longer, the number of hours we work in a week longer, and those crucial, life-changing decisions we make about your children will be more difficult to make.”
Patel added the government was backing doctors into a corner and the decision to fight back to protect the NHS was the most difficult decision many professionals would ever make.
“However, the consequences of not fighting back will be detrimental to our lives, the lives of our current and future colleagues, our patients and our NHS,” she explained.
“What choice do we have? We believe our patients and our NHS are worth fighting for. We believe our patients expect us to fight for them.”
A recent poll of over 25,000 people showed that 95 per cent of the public support junior doctors.
“We can’t let them down, the future of our NHS is in our hands,” said Patel.
Hunt said: “This is a good deal for doctors. We are reducing the maximum hours a doctor can be asked to work from 91 to 72 hours (a week); we’re stopping doctors being asked to work for five nights in a row.”