I spoke during the House of Commons Opposition Day debate on Junior Doctors Contracts on the 28th October 2015. Speech below.
Countless junior doctors have been in touch with me to say that they are worried and in despair about the Government’s threat to impose an unfair contract on them. They tell me that the dangerously long hours that the contract will introduce will be a threat to patient safety. Doctors tell me that rostered hours are not a realistic gauge of total working hours, and that reducing them will not prevent dangerous increases in working time.
Sofia, an anaesthetist in my constituency, says:
“A ‘normal’ rostered day starts at 7.45am and finishes at 5.45pm. In reality there is no such thing as a ‘normal’ day, because the clock strikes 5.45pm and it is impossible to walk out the door with an operation ongoing.”
Doctors like Sofia are content to work longer hours out of a sense of duty, but they are deeply concerned by plans to remove the financial penalties placed on hospitals to prevent dangerously long hours. She describes the Health Secretary's assurances as follows:
“It’s a bit like trying to stop speeding on a busy road by lowering the speed limit, but at the same time getting rid of all the speed cameras, police and speeding fines.”
What does all this mean for patient safety? I was contacted by another doctor, Keir, a paediatrician in a neonatal intensive care unit in West Ham. He cannot see how his team could be spread more thinly during the week in order to provide more doctors on Saturdays. He is rightly concerned that doctors would be at risk of exhaustion. He says:
“High intensity specialties are particularly affected from a safety point of view. You don’t want any delay putting a three-month premature baby on life support. Putting in a breathing tube, getting a tiny line into tiny veins—all require skill and concentration. Any tiredness affects the swiftness and accuracy of these procedures.”
Doctors like Keir are aghast at what the Government are telling them.
Doctors are also deeply disheartened by the Government’s handling of the new contracts. One doctor, Simi, has told me:
“The mood is grim in hospital at the moment. We feel under-appreciated and undervalued. We are not being misled by the BMA. We can read the facts and analyse them for ourselves.”
Whatever the Health Secretary has said today, it is evident that some doctors will lose out financially. This uncertainty over pay is causing anxiety. Sofia says:
“Come August 2016, I have no idea how much I will be paid, whether I will be able to afford to pay my bills or even spend time with my children.”
I agree with Oliver, another West Ham doctor, who says:
“Not one doctor should be taking home less pay than they do now.”
This will have serious consequences for staff retention. Doctors are making plans to leave the NHS. Nick, a medical student in West Ham, says:
“I studied medicine to become not just a doctor but an NHS doctor. Under the proposed contract, I’ll be left in the sad situation of being forced elsewhere.”
That will be this Health Secretary’s legacy. Kirsty, a histopathologist, says:
“The health secretary has been nothing but belittling and demeaning. He has suggested we have lost our sense of vocation. Imposing a contract on us and treating us like children rather than professionals is so wearing.”
We trust these doctors with our lives and with our loved ones. Our NHS staff are truly phenomenal. They deserve nothing but the utmost respect, and they certainly do not deserve to have an unfair, unjust contract imposed upon them. The people in this country love the NHS. For their sake, the Government must put forward fair proposals, withdraw the threat of contract imposition and return to negotiations with the BMA.