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Junior doctors’ contracts — unsafe and unfair

We appreciate The Pharmaceutical Journal’s support for junior doctors in England in the editorial ‘Pharmacists must support their junior doctor colleagues’. We would like to add a few points to the issues regarding our contracts. 

We are seriously concerned that the government has been misleading the public by quoting statistics inappropriately, raising concern about high death rates in NHS hospitals in patients admitted during the weekends, and thus proposing to change our contracts. The statistics quoted were inaccurate and did not account for many factors that could affect treatment outcomes, such as accessibility of medical cover in community, hospital transports, or the availability of some diagnostic modality, phlebotomy services, porter services, etc. The claims on the lack of seven-day services were also incorrect because junior doctors in most specialties are already providing 24/7 rota covers. The change of definition of the “normal” working hours to 10pm is unacceptable.

The most unsafe element of the proposed contract is the removal of safeguarding our working hours monitoring. At the moment, all NHS trusts are required to monitor junior doctors’ working hours every three months to make sure our rotas follow a safe pattern (i.e. not exceed the contractual hours, regular rest time, etc.). If breached, the trust will be fined and legally required to change the rotas. Without this safeguard, we could potentially be put in “unsafe” rotas by our employers and, if we work beyond the contractual hours, we will not get any compensation. This is unsafe for patients and unfair for doctors.

The recent so-called ‘offer’ from health secretary Jeremy Hunt of an 11% basic salary rise is nonsense. A basic pay rise is not enough to compensate for the antisocial hours we work, which normally account for 30–40% of our total take-home salaries. He also proposed to match the salaries for doctors in training, but this will be selective to some doctors at certain posts and levels, which means a significant proportion of junior doctors will still receive a massive pay cut.

The government has refused to listen to junior doctors who are already overworked and underpaid. Many have already left to work in other countries where they can get a better deal and safer working environment. The proposed new contract is harming the dignity of doctors and the future prospects of our profession. This will inevitably have a negative impact on future recruitments, and will potentially lead to the collapse of the NHS. 

We remain sceptical about whether the government’s agreement to talks at the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service will be fruitful.

Wing Yan Liu

Specialist registrar in clinical radiology

Russells Hall Hospital, Dudley

Kirran Khalid

Specialist registrar in clinical radiology

New Cross Hospital, Wolverhampton

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2015.20200175

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