Junior doctors begin 48-hour strike

Just why are doctors striking?

Junior doctors have begun the first of three 48-hour strikes over the government’s forced imposition of new contracts.

Given some media coverage of the row, you could be forgiven for wondering whether a few young doctors are stamping their feet over nothing, and trying to get a bit of extra money. But this is decidedly not the case.

Junior doctors make up a third of all of the UK’s doctors. After the cost of university fees for between five to six years of training, junior doctors currently have a starting salary of £22,636. This rises to £28,000 in the second year of working. Only those at consultant level are considered non-junior doctors, and many doctors spend their entire careers as “junior doctors” regardless of their experience.

Junior doctors are currently paid slightly more for working anti-social hours (currently classified as outside 07:00 to 19:00 Monday to Friday) on top of the basic salary, but they also work massive amounts of overtime which largely goes unrecorded.

Doctors in the NHS are already understaffed and overworked, which has sent stress levels soaring.Combined with relatively low pay (compared to other countries) doctors training in the UK are increasingly choosing to work overseas where conditions are better.

The government’s forced contract changes are actively making life worse for doctors.

The new contract changes the anti-social hours to outside 07:00 to 22:00 Monday to Saturday, making Saturday between 07:00 and 22:00 part of a junior doctor’s normal working week.

So it is unsurprising that 98% of doctors balloted by the highly respectable British Medical Association (BMA) voted for strike action.

Today is the first of three 48-hour strikes that will see doctors walk out in protest at the government’s contract changes.

The BMA has said it will launch a legal challenge to oppose the imposition of the contracts.

Meanwhile, public support for the doctors remains very high, with a poll by Ipsos/Mori indicating 65% of people back the doctor’s strike.

This is despite the irritation of 5,000 routine operations being delayed.

Perhaps this is because the general public better recognise the valuable role played by doctors than the government does.

The BMA’s junior doctor leader Dr Johann Malawana said: We deeply regret disruption to patients, and have given trusts as much notice as possible to plan ahead, but the government has left junior doctors with no choice.

“Ministers have made it clear they intend to impose a contract that is unfair on junior doctors and could undermine the delivery of patient care in the long term.”

Two further strikes are scheduled for April.

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