The truth is that we’ve been backed into a corner. The Government has proposed a contract which is unsafe for patients, unfair for doctors, and unsustainable for the NHS. It’s not just me that believes this; after a ballot of over 37,000 junior doctors by the British Medical Association (BMA), 98 per cent have voted for strike action
I am so deeply saddened that it has come to this, but as an advocate for my patients, a representative for my colleagues, and inevitably a future service user of the NHS, I must do all I can to change this situation.
I’m hoping to start training in children’s medicine in August. If I were to progress through that training full time, without any time out for research, volunteering abroad, or anything else, I will still be classed as a junior doctor until 2024 – I’ll be 34.
The proposed contract would remove vital protections on safe working patterns, devalue evening and weekend work and, most importantly, could have a real impact on the quality of patient care as there’s been a serious dilution of safeguards preventing over-exhausted junior doctors working dangerously long hours.
This action was wholly avoidable. We hoped to avert the strike but after weeks of further negotiations, it is clear that the Government is still not taking junior doctors’ concerns seriously. Throughout this process, the Government has repeatedly dragged its feet, initially rejecting our offer of talks and failing to make significant movement during negotiations.
We are told that the Health Secretary is trying to improve patient safety, but why then not listen to thousands of junior doctors who have voted to say this is not safe, and not fair?
Jeremy Hunt has claimed the contract changes are to provide a seven-day NHS, but we already provide care 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If you are sick, a junior doctor will be at work to help you.
Many junior doctor rotas are already under-staffed, but this contract risks more doctors voting with their feet and leaving the NHS. Last year only 52 per cent of doctors at my stage of training went straight into the next level of training. We cannot afford to lose more junior doctors. I do not want you, or a member of your friends or family, to be treated by a demoralised, undervalued and exhausted junior doctor. I want patients to receive the best care we can give.
As a junior doctor on a psychiatry rotation, my shifts can be any time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I worked 12.5 hour night shifts over Christmas, I worked New Year’s Eve into the night, and the weekend before the strike. My job involves difficult decisions about prescribing medications and assessing risks of patients causing harm to themselves or others. If I make a mistake, it can have a devastating effect, which is why no one needs doctors making decisions when they are tired.
Junior doctors are not asking the Government to make medicine easier. We accept that the job requires us to work long hours and take high-risk clinical decisions, but in return we need a contract that protects us and the patients we care for, delivers a fair system of pay and ensures we have the opportunity and flexibility to learn as we progress through their career.
These things are vital to delivering high quality care for patients and to ensure doctors are trained to the best possible standards.
If you have had a clinic appointment or elective procedure cancelled today, I am deeply sorry for your inconvenience, and I really wish it didn’t have to be this way. I only hope that you can see that we are doing this because we need to stop an unsafe and unfair contract from going forward, and we have been left no option. It is because the Government’s proposals would be bad for patient care as well as junior doctors in the long-term that we are taking this stand.
Melody Redman is a junior doctor in North Yorkshire.