‘No choice but to strike’, say junior doctors

Junior doctors have voted en masse to strike in protest over changes to their pay, despite warnings that some patients may die as a result. Is being a doctor a job or a vocation?

‘I’ll be working more hours for less money’, said one young man protesting in London. ‘My family will be worse off’, yelled another. One woman was even more fatalistic, proclaiming ‘this is the beginning of the end of the NHS’.

Last Thursday morning 37,700 junior doctors held a vote on whether to go on strike. An enormous majority of 98% voted in favour of three walk-outs, the first of which will be a week tomorrow. The crisis, which started in 2012, has hardened many NHS workers’ ill-feeling towards the government. It shows no signs of stopping.

This morning the government is warning that patients could die if the strike goes ahead and the junior doctors are saying they are ‘desperate to avoid industrial action’ but will go ahead if no concessions are made.

What is this strike about? In short, junior doctors (those who have qualified but are still training to become a consultant or a GP) are unhappy about a new contract due to start in England next year offered to them by the government.

While their basic salary will increase by 11%, there are several strings attached. The number of hours that are deemed ‘unsociable’ is being reduced by 25%. Doctors are paid more during these hours, and under the new proposal the time from 7pm to 10pm on a weekday and from 7am to 7pm on a Saturday will no longer qualify. Most medics working at these times are junior doctors, so many will end up with less money.

Doctors are worried that this will lead to them becoming overworked, meaning patients could be put in danger. Financial penalties that hospitals can face if doctors work very long hours are being scrapped, as are guaranteed pay increases linked to time in the job.

Though their grievances may be legitimate, many people believe doctors should never go out on strike. Whatever those walking out might say, services are bound to be disrupted. Hip operations, knee replacements and routine checks will all be cancelled. Surely being a doctor involves putting others first?

A higher calling?

Like serving in the armed forces, teaching or being a priest, being a doctor is a vocation that requires total selflessness. And just as British soldiers swear allegiance to the Queen, doctors take the Hippocratic Oath. Becoming a doctor is a rejection of careerism in favour of a life of public service.

Let’s not elevate doctors to such heights, say others. Most people go into medicine and become doctors because they are interested in science, not because they are saints who have a divine calling to save mankind. And of course money is a huge motivator for almost everyone, whether you are a doctor, teacher or priest. Doctors have the same fears and motivations as the rest of us.

You Decide

  1. Should doctors be allowed to go on strike?
  2. What do you think will motivate you more in your career: money or fulfilment?

Activities

  1. Some public services, such as the police, are ‘essential services’, meaning that workers employed in them are not allowed to go out on strike. Make a list of which jobs you think should be an ‘essential service’, and which should not.
  2. Research how highly doctors are paid in the UK in comparison with those in other countries. Do you think they are paid too much, too little or the right amount?

Some People Say...

“There’s no such thing as a selfless job.”

What do you think?

Q & A

I don’t want to be a doctor, so why does this matter to me?
You may not want to go into the world of medicine, but we all rely on doctors at some point in our lives. And I imagine you would be quite worried if you were seriously ill and found out that thousands of doctors were refusing to work for a day.
Why is the NHS such a big political topic?
Very simply, because treating illnesses and keeping people alive is so important and costs an enormous amount of money. Britain spends over £130bn per year on the National Health Service (NHS). By far the greatest costs are drugs and paying the wages of the`more than 1.5 million people who work for it.

Word Watch

37,700
According to the Department of Health.
Consultant
The title of senior hospital-based physicians or surgeons who have completed all of their training and now specialise in their area of expertise, for example neurologists and oncologists.
England
In the UK the NHS is a collective term for the health service in each of the four nations in a devolved system of healthcare. The NHS Acts of 1946, 1947 and 1948 respectively created the national health services for England and Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. NHS Wales passed to the control of the Welsh government in 1999.
Basic salary
The starting salary for a junior doctor is currently just under £23,000 a year.
Guaranteed pay increases
These pay increases are being replaced by a system linked to progression through set training stages. The British Medical Association argues that this affects people who have to take time off work, to have a baby for example.
Hippocratic Oath
An oath traditionally taken by doctors. It originates from Ancient Greece with Hippocrates, who is known as the ‘Father of Western Medicine’.

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