As most junior doctors know, Sir David Dalton is now heading up Jeremy Hunt’s negotiating team over the junior doctor contracts. This week, following an apparent stalemate, Sir David took the opportunity to bypass the BMA and write directly to junior doctors. In his letter, his language and tone was notably more emollient than that of Jeremy Hunt; he acknowledged the “high degree of discontent which has been fermenting for some years and that the proposed new contract has brought this to the surface”. He also took time to explain the positives that he feels the new contract would offer; limits on consecutive nights, consecutive long days and consecutive weekends; improved notice over rotas and a crackdown on fixed leave; and equal or better rates of pay.
Whilst the language is kinder (and the tone far less bullying that Hunt’s), these are all points that we have heard before. The greatest sticking point continues to be the re-classification of Saturday as “plain-time”; that is, working time that is no longer recognised as being antisocial, and would no longer attract an increased rate of pay for those hours.
I decided to write back to Sir David.
Dear Sir David,
Thank you for your letter dated 3rd February 2016. Thank you for taking the time to explain the current state of negotiations, and thank you for all of your hard work during the negotiations of the last few weeks. It is good to see that you appreciate the widespread sense of disillusionment felt by junior doctors working in the NHS at the moment.
As I’m sure you know, junior doctors are committed to safe, efficient, gold-standard emergency care for patients, whatever day of the week and whatever time of day they fall ill. Junior doctors throughout the UK, from London to Salford, are already committed to working night and weekend shifts to ensure patient safety. One of the major sticking points of the negotiations seems to be the Government’s desire to re-define Saturday as “plain-time” working hours. I appreciate the concessions that have been made by your negotiating team so far, in reducing the Saturday “plain-time” to 10 hours, rather than the 15 hours proposed. However, I know that many junior doctors feel that this still doesn’t recognise the disruptive effect of Saturday working on their families and personal relationships.
I suspect that junior doctors would be more amenable to increased plain-time working if you were able to explain how the re-classification of Saturday as “plain-time” for junior doctors would lead to a reduction in the “weekend effect” that Mr. Hunt refers to. Thus far, the evidence for such an improvement has not been presented clearly. I believe that this evidence must exist, as it would be nonsensical for Mr. Hunt and NHS Employers to have caused a doctors’ strike without it. I look forward to this evidence being presented in due course. I think it may be the best chance of averting further disruptive industrial action.
It is categorically not to disadvantage trainees as the current additional costs of Saturday pay will be spread over the rest of the week – to put at its most simplest: if now the cost of a Saturday shift = $150 and a Mon-Fri weekday shift = $100, then the proposed contract allows for each day (Mon-Sat) to be paid at $110. (forgive the $ sign and the rounding of the arithmetic!) The total cost and pay remain the same.
- Junior doctors AREN’T asking to work fewer weekends.
- Junior doctors AREN’T refusing to work more weekends.
- Junior doctors AREN’T asking for a pay-rise.
We have committed our adult lives to becoming doctors. Our student years were spent in libraries, wards and lectures whilst our friends were enjoying extended reading weeks and Christmas holidays. We watched our peers start earning money, buying cars and saving for houses whilst we continued to study. We have incurred thousands in student debt, with our successors set to suffer even more. We have been tossed around the country, like leaves in the breeze, following wherever our training jobs may take us. We have spent so many of our evenings, nights and weekends to looking after strangers in their darkest hours, and more time still on portfolios, courses and journals in an effort to keep up and continue to progress. We have missed Christmases, birthdays, weddings, funerals, Nativity plays, parents’ evenings, families and friends. And we’ve done it all through choice, in the hope that we will enjoy the most rewarding of careers, and be treated fairly by those who employ us.
Is that too much to ask?