Junior Doctors in Mansfield say they are driven to illness by the stress of the job, and are damning today’s news that Jeremy Hunt is pushing forward with contract changes.
Junior doctors staged a walkout at King’s Mill hospital yesterday in their second full day of strike action against the government’s plans, which they call unsafe for patients.
Some 30 student doctors at the facility just outside Mansfield staged a walkout yesterday morning and spent the rest of the day in Nottingham and Derby to raise awareness of the ‘dangers’ contract changes may put on patients.
And no less than a day after they joined national strike action at hospitals across the country, new has broken that Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt is set to impose changes as ‘negotiations have failed’.
But local coordinator for the British Medical Association, junior doctor Chris Episkopos, said negotiations had been amicable right up until Mr Hunt intervened.
The 23 year-old form the USA said: “The BMA have been in negotiations with the government since 2012 to make contract changes to the junior doctor’s contracts.
“They want to change the normal working hours to span 90 hours instead of 60 as they are now - and this will mean extending our days and including Saturdays within normal shifts.
“We had actually come to an arrangement with NHS employers – and agreed to a smaller increase in pay and not including Saturdays, but then the Health Secretary personally vetoed it.
“It’s effectively a 30 per cent pay cut.”
The government has claimed the deadline for negotiations passed yesterday – and Mr Hunt is expected to announce in the House of Commons today that talks have failed and he will set in motion the new contract changes.
Doctors earn a basic starting salary of £22,000 said Chris, and then unsocial hours are added on top, but with extended normal days, they say the stretched staff numbers will be worked even harder.
Chris added: “But this isn’t just about pay. They’re also trimming a lot of rules that prevent you working more hours than is legally acceptable.
King’s Mill is a worst case scenario, added the doctors. The facility has been in special measures since it was found too many patients were dying at the Sutton health centre – and as well as inherent financial burdens from its PFI arrangement, Chris says there simply isn’t enough staff.
“We’re chronically understaffed, and if the government wins this battle it’s more likely they will win the next battles, with the nurses and other staff.
“Two weekends ago I was the only doctor on a ward and two others had been taken off. I was looking after 150 patients without support, and in that situation you’re bleeper is going off constantly, it’s everything you can do to just keep them all alive.”
“This idea of the ‘seven-day NHS’ – the NHS is already running seven days – but they want to run thing like routine clinics which there may not even be a demand for, so they either have to hire more staff, or stretch us all further.”
Which is where the problem lies, said second year doctor Naomi Lashar, 26.
“I know people who are put off by this,” she added. “They’re all going to Australia where the working conditions are better.”
Tom Stubington is in his second year as a junior doctor.
The medic from Nottingham said: “The NHS now is a ‘mish-mash’ of 800 different private companies bidding for contracts. The cost has risen ever since privatisation started under Maggy Thatcher in the 80s.”
And while the government pushes to make the Private sector ‘the shining beacon’ that can save the NHS in the model of the American system, the doctors say it’s a false economy.
“The idea that the private sector has better outcomes and can hit targets with less resources is a myth, because they pull in resources from the NHS, said Tom.
The BMA is expected to react to the news with further walkouts and possibly even full strike action, inluding trainees in emergency and intensive care as well.
Public opinion still rests with the junior doctors, as a YouGov poll found 49 per cent of people agreed junior doctors are right to take action, while 31 per cent said they are wrong to.
But Nottinghamshire Tory MP, Mark Spencer (Sherwood) said the break down in talks was the fault of the union.
He said: “This is all about the BMA frankly refusing to resolve this through talks and pushing ahead with industrial action that has a negative impact on healthcare and patients across our whole area, and adding to the pressures on our hospitals. The Government are doing everything they can to mitigate the impact on patients, and obviously in the absence of the BMA being willing to have a genuine negotiation on this we can’t just continue with strike after strike.
“We have a strong desire to resolve the one remaining issue of pay for unsocial hours – as both parties agreed to do with ACAS back in November. The contract prioritises patient safety and offers junior doctors’ safer working hours, with the majority seeing a pay rise and nobody working legal hours seeing their pay cut. We urged the BMA to resolve this through talks not strikes; if they want to talk then the Health Secretary is sat at the negotiating table ready for them, but they can’t just hold a gun to his head and say ‘back down or we’ll go on strike’ when it puts patient care at risk’’.
Gloria De Piero, Labour MP for Ashfield, said: “The Government’s handling of the whole issue of new contracts for junior doctors has been an absolute shambles.
“Everyone agrees that reform of the junior doctors’ current contract is needed but I am totally against this new contract being imposed on them.
“It will cause morale to plunge and could lead to more strike action which will impact upon everyone who works for the NHS or uses the NHS.
Juniors are saying that ‘tired doctors make mistakes’ and some even claim the pressure of the job, and the need to keep up staffing levels on a skeleton crew mean they’re driven to forego a sick day because they know it’ll impact how a ward is run.
“Jeremy Hunt needs to start listening to what junior doctors have to say and get back round the negotiating table to reach an agreement that ensures patients get the best and safest treatment possible from our health service.”
Lizzie Moriarty, 29 from Belper said: “We come to work even when we’re sick because there’s no back up to bridge the gap - obviously we don’t come in if it’s something serious or contagious, but we work at full pelt all the time and even when you’re ill you come in because it would impact on your colleagues.”
Junior medic Maya Kessler, 28 from Derby is a core medical trainee. She said: “We’re already a stretched service. We’re all trainees and we love our work, but our training is suffering because of the hours - I’ supposed to go to classes but there is so few of us we can’t leave the wards.”
Christine Peter, 26, agreed: “The job is physically and emotionally demanding and there’s no time to relax so you end up burnt out.”
Sherwood Forest Hospitals Trust said the industrial action some appointments were affected.
At King’sMill, 79 outpatient appointments had to be cancelled and four Day Case procedures.
A spokesperson added: “Patients in need of emergency care continued to receive the treatment they required, when they needed it.
“We have a tried and tested plans in place at our hospitals to deal with a range of disruptions, including industrial action.
“Plans were put in place to manage the issues arising from this week’s industrial action by junior doctors.
“Some booked appointments and admissions at our hospitals were affected. Patients that were due to attend an appointment or procedure were notified in advance if their appointment had to cancelled or rescheduled.”