Lancaster doctors say new government contract is “unsafe and unfair”

Junior doctors on the picket line outside the Royal Lancaster Infirmary. Monday January 12 2016. Photo by Nick Lakin.
Junior doctors on the picket line outside the Royal Lancaster Infirmary. Monday January 12 2016. Photo by Nick Lakin.
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Junior doctors at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary (RLI) have slammed government proposals to change their contracts, joining thousands of others across England in a 24 hour strike over pay and working conditions.

Dr Rachel Dakin, a 25-year-old junior doctor at the RLI joined the picket line outside Medical Unit 1 in Ashton Road, today, January 12.

The picket line outside medical unit 1 at the RLI. Photo by Nick Lakin.

The picket line outside medical unit 1 at the RLI. Photo by Nick Lakin.

She said if the government’s proposed new contract went ahead in August 2016, she would have no choice but to leave the profession.

Dr Dakin, who hopes to become a GP, said: “If this contract comes in, I would have to leave the profession.

“It would be unworkable and I would have no life outside work.

“It’s a really difficult decision to make because this is what I want to do.

“But people will have to really think about how they want to move forward in their career.”

Junior doctor and mother Amira Jenan said: “I have two children, but I haven’t seen them for the last two weeks.

“To stretch that even further is going to be extremely difficult to manage.”

The government’s Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt wants to introduce a “truly seven-day NHS”.

He plans to do this by cutting the number of hours on a weekend that junior doctors can claim extra pay.

Under the most recent proposals, doctors will receive a rise in basic pay but extra pay for “unsocial” hours will be cut.

Currently, 7pm to 7am Monday to Friday and the whole of Saturday and Sunday attract a premium rate of pay.

Under the new plans, a higher rate would run from 10pm to 7am Monday to Friday, and from 7pm on Saturday evenings (a concession on the previous 10pm).

David Morris, MP for Morecambe and Lunesdale, said the strike “is not about patient safety it is about BMA committee members with left wing political ambitions trying to scalp the government”.

Dr Helen Ivatt, a junior doctor at the RLI said: “If the new contract goes ahead the entirity of the NHS is at stake.

“The government wants to redefine what it considers to be unsocial hours.

“There’s a basic pay for the time that we do, and a supplement makes up up to 50 per cent of our pay packet.

“Under the new contract, the vast majority of doctors will receive quite a hefty pay cut.

“The government believes that working on a Saturday and up until 10pm is social hours. It specifically targets emergency care workers.

“A&E is facing a massive recruitment problem already and we already work a lot of unsocial hours.

“We’re happy to work the 48 hour week across the seven days, but we feel we should be rewarded for all the birthdays, weddings, and family events that we will inevitably miss.

“To be paid less than a manager at Pret-A-Manger for example is pretty unbelievable.”

Dr Laura Gold said: “One of the problems with the new contract is that they are removing safeguards.

“If we’re going to be working longer hours we need to have safeguards in place, to keep us and patients safe.

“The government hasn’t even explained what a seven day service would look like, or mean, for staff.

“This will stretch the other services as well, staff who check blood tests and X-Rays, if we start to change when we request these services, it will naturally mean other departments will have to change the way they work as well.

The new contract will definitely have a detrimental impact on patients.”

Dr Nicola Cahil added: “Tired doctors make more mistakes. The agenda here is the end of the NHS.”

The junior doctors on strike said University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Trust had been “very supportive”, and that other staff had stepped in to cover services.

Junior doctor Tania Wood said: “The hospital (RLI) will definitely be affected by these proposed changes.

“They’re trying to stretch the same number of doctors more thinly.

“We’ll either be working longer, or there will be less doctors around during weekdays.

“We’ve never asked for a pay rise, but the government is asking us to do more for less.

We’re contracted to work to 48 hours per week, and naturally our employers go up to that limit.

“Some weeks you’d work less, some you’d work more to balance it out.

“This just feels like a threat. There’s no democracy here. The contract is unsafe and unfair.”

Eugene Doherty, president of Lancaster and Morecambe Trades Union Council, who joined the picket line along with members of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), University College Union (UCU) lecturers, the unions UNITE and UNISON, and members of Labour and the Green Party, said: “We don’t just see this as a fight for junior doctors, we see it as a fight for the NHS.

“The NHS is not safe in the government’s hands. They’ve already privatised the pharmacy here at the RLI.

“We’re breaking quite a lot of laws here but I’m proud to be backing it.”

Junior doctors will be in Market Square on Saturday, January 16 from 12pm to talk to members of the public about the new contract.

“Patient safety is not at risk in fact the new contract will improve patient safety as more doctors will be working on a Saturday, and any overtime will be remunerated along with more pensionable pay.

He added: “This strike is not about patient safety it is about BMA committee members with left wing political ambitions trying to scalp the government.”

A spokeswoman for Morecambe and Lunesdale MP David Morris said he would respond later today.