A real terms pay cut and poor working conditions – why junior docs are angry and deserve better

I’m angry. I’m frustrated. I’m fed up. And I know a lot of you are too. Changeover is less than 10 days away, and some of you don’t have your rota yet (please get in touch with our BMA Scotland team if this is the case for you). I’ve heard some being asked to work the morning of August 3rd for induction before the night shift (if this is you, please get in touch/escalate this asap – this is not safe). I’ve heard of people being forced into working additional hours to cover gaps and incoming FY1s feeling forced to complete mandatory e-learning in their free time.

I’ve spent the weekend at work in what honestly did not feel like July in the NHS – but proper mid-winter pressures. And then, to top this all this last week we were thrown an additional blow from Scottish government when they announced a below inflation pay uplift of 4.5% (amounting to a pay cut in real terms). This was on the same day the GMCs National Training Survey showed just how burnt out we are with nearly 2/3 of junior doctors (in training) at moderate or high risk of burnout compared to less than half back in 2019.

We can’t go on like this. Individually, or as a profession. It just isn’t sustainable. The NHS is on its knees, and we cannot be expected as individuals to carry that burden anymore. I know I’m at risk of sounding like a broken record here, but we need better, we deserve better, as do our patients.

The National Training Survey showed a relatively bleak picture across the UK, with most of the positive feedback seemingly showing our resourcefulness as a profession to go above and beyond to support each other. Scotland scored worst on availability of rest facilities out of hours, for educational/teaching opportunities being lost due to rota gaps and of course being one of the worst for getting rotas out on time. Although none of this is really a surprise. To us – we live it day in and day out, but I often wonder how much our government, our deanery and our employers take note. How much they truly listen when we’re rightfully complaining about the awful conditions, we’re working in.

And similarly, it’s no surprise that a sub inflation pay “rise” (note the inverted commas – be under no illusion that with inflation so high that this is a real terms pay cut) feels like a kick in the face. In Scotland at least this has been applied across the profession but is still lower than the poor offer that’s been made to other parts of our NHS, and still significantly lower than inflation. We’re consulting doctors across Scotland right now to gauge your views, and to work out what we should do next – you can fill in the survey here.

So, like I said I’m angry. And it isn’t just about pay. Not at all. We’re fed up with winter pressures, of sacrificing training for service provision, of being bullied into covering rota gaps, of having to revise on top of 48 hour working weeks, of being undervalued, of feeling like transient employees with the frequent rotations.

So, what am I going to do about it? As Chair of the BMA Scottish Junior Doctors Committee, I will keep shouting about the situations we find ourselves in, using whatever platform I can. I’ll keep representing you when I speak to government, employers, and the deanery. Pushing for change – prioritising meaningful changes to our working conditions. Over the coming weeks I’ll be meeting with various stakeholders to discuss how we fix these rota delays, how we focus on the key safety issue of breaks, and how we make monitoring work better, and how we improve the training we receive. These aren’t problems we can easily fix overnight, but I’m hopeful we can make some meaningful and measurable improvement over the coming year.

So, what can you do about it? Come along to our SJDC Q&A events (both virtual and in person) over the next few weeks to chat about the issues affecting you, ask questions, and hear about what we’ve been doing – sign up here: SJDC QA Registration form – Contact Details (bma.org.uk). If you can’t make it, you can of course drop us a line at chair-sjdc@bma.org.uk. If you too are keen to push to improve our working conditions, then maybe you’d like to come join your LNC-JDS (regional junior doctor sub-committees)/NES LNC and/or SJDC. Nominations open this week and of course make sure you have your say when voting opens also. I appreciate becoming a representative isn’t for everyone, but I would urge all of you to make sure you let us know of any issues you come across, take your breaks, fill in your monitoring forms and make sure you’re clued up on all things #JnrDocRights.

Dr Lailah Peel is Chair of BMA Scotland’s Junior Doctor Committee

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