I didn’t, and my own sister is one.
Every doctor in the UK who doesn’t hold the title of consultant or fully qualified GP is a junior doctor. In other words: the person who took over the difficult delivery of your baby, the person who treated your child in A&E, the surgeon who performs an emergency operation on them.
Chances are, last time you or your family were treated by a doctor other than your GP, that person was one of the 55,020 junior doctors currently working for the NHS.
The fact is, the public is largely ignorant about who these people actually are. I’m very close to my sister and yet when I read about the imminent strike action this morning I wasn’t even 100% sure if she would be part of it… Surely, I thought, these ‘juniors’ are the fresh-faced, JD-from-Scrubs types wandering around under the watchful guidance of seen-it-all registrars? No. My sister is 30 and has been a qualified doctor for over six years. At the moment she is an ST3 (specialist trainee, 3rd year) in paediatrics, working full-time at a London teaching hospital in general paeds and gastroenterology, whilst studying past-time for a Masters in global child health. She will continue to be a junior doctor for at least another five years, more if she has children in the meantime. One of her friends has two kids and works part-time as an ST2, also in paediatrics. She will continue to be a junior doctor for at least another 11 years, more if she has any more children.
A junior doctor delivered my daughter and stitched me up afterwards. Junior doctors helped care for my dad when he suffered and died from cancer. I have been lucky enough to avoid an A&E trip with my child so far, but when that day (or night) comes, it will be a junior doctor who treats her. I know how I would feel if that person were exhausted from the extra hours they have been forced to work due to the “removal of safeguards on excessive hours” clause in their new contract.
Surely the very term “safeguard” should ring alarm bells here? These restrictions on hours – currently 48 hours a week under the European working time directive – are there for a reason, that is why they are called SAFEGUARDS. Who are they there to protect? The person pushing numbers in a office? The hand holding a scalpel? Or your child, underneath that scalpel?
One of the scariest facts of the matter is that many of these junior doctors are now considering giving up working for the NHS in favour of working abroad. When you consider the pay cut (up to 30% for some), longer hours and cap on locum pay (doctors who temporarily fill in for another) this new contract promises, it’s not hard to see why.
These people aren’t striking because they’re greedy. The so-called 11% pay rise becomes irrelevant once the subsidies for out-of-hours work has been removed. Pay progression will be suspended for less than full-time training. If my sister chooses to have children in the next five years, she will face a similar story to her friend.
The British Medical Association (BMA) is calling for the chance just to negotiate the terms of this contract. There are plenty of petitions to sign for members of the public to show their support for junior doctors – but according to my sister, the biggest battle is raising public awareness. Considering her own flesh and blood didn’t know exactly what a junior doctor was until this morning, I’d say she has a point.
Jeremy Hunt wrote a book about dismantling the NHS – its privatisation is a very real possibility. But just remember, it won’t be a private healthcare provider who treats your child for anaphylactic shock at a birthday party next weekend. And it won’t be a private doctor who sees you in A&E at 3am when your baby’s temperature has crept to 40 degrees.
You know who it will be.