When doctors march something needs to change

Today I have a guest post by Lalitha Mayuranathan, a junior doctor who specialises in Obstetrics and Gynaecology. She explains why she joined 20,000 other junior doctors who marched through London last Saturday to protest against the new junior doctor contract that is due to be enforced in August 2016.

Newborn and mumPhoto copyright: famveldman / 123RF Stock Photo

After endless sleepless nights, I feel compelled to speak to everyone and anyone who will listen, but mostly this is for the non-doctors out there. I marched through London with approx. 20,000 other doctors in protest of the new Junior Doctor Contract due to be enforced in August 2016.

There are many aspects to this contract, but essentially it will cut our pay by up to 30% and the current safety limits on the hours we work will be removed. To put this in context, I will use me as an example.

I spent 7 years at university (with the loans to show for it). I have worked as a doctor for over 6 years. I have a minimum of 4 years before I become a consultant (and am no longer classed as a ‘junior doctor’). With maternity leave and part-time training, it will be another 8-9 years before I am a consultant. I work in Obstetrics & Gynaecology which is an emergency surgical specialty. We are the front-line. We absolutely already work a 24/7, 365 days/year rota. And we will be among those who are hardest hit by these changes precisely because we already work around the clock.

My basic salary is £34,000. Because of the endless nights and weekend shifts I work, I earn an additional 50% on this salary (taking it to £51,000). These are my responsibilities:

  • I run the labour ward.
  • I perform any emergency procedures or surgeries needed to deliver or keep a labouring woman and her baby safe.
  • I will take a woman who is haemorrhaging from miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy to theatre. I do this around the clock. In the middle of the night, there is not a single other doctor in the hospital that has the training to perform these, not infrequently, lifesaving procedures. The weight of responsibility is huge.
  • In daytime hours I work in antenatal, gynaecology, oncology, fertility and urogynae clinics. I work in gynaecology theatres.
  • I perform ultrasound scans on pregnant women.
  • I support women and their partners through some of the darkest and most beautiful moments of their life.
  • I am challenged intellectually, emotionally, physically, ethically and spiritually every single day.

It is the most amazing and must be one of the hardest jobs in the world. I love my job; it is a vocation and I give body and soul to it. And I am still in training. This means I spend thousands of pounds to sit exams and attend courses. I study when I’m not working. I pay for this training from the salary stated above. To improve my training, I am required to work in different hospitals every year. In the 6 years I have been a doctor I have moved house 6 times and worked in 8 different hospitals. I will continue to do this and incur the financial and personal costs of moving my life around for the next 5-9 years. Because it will make me a better doctor.

The Tory government think I am worth £34,000/year. Full stop. I do not think I am worth that. Neither do my colleagues. We are hugely demoralised, apoplectic with rage and utterly broken-hearted. We give so much of ourselves; we internalise our patients’ emotional pain; we wake up every day with a very simple goal of helping people. There is no profit margin. And we are totally devalued.

The General Medical Council receive ~25 applications/day from UK doctors wishing to work abroad. When the new contracts were announced they received 1,600 applications in the first 3 days. We are leaving in our 1000s. We are British doctors. Our qualifications are amongst the most highly regarded medically in the world. I have worked as a doctor in developing and developed countries. The NHS is second to none. The standard of healthcare delivered and the accessibility to all sectors of society is phenomenal. And it is about to crumble. Those of us who remain will fight this every step of the way. But if we lose this fight we will leave too. Because working under these conditions is simple not an option.

My specialty has a 20-25% shortage of doctors already. This will become much, much worse. We will be expected to plug the gaps as well as work extra hours for less pay. We will be beyond the point of exhaustion and it will be unsafe. And if we can’t or won’t, potentially the majority of the healthcare will be delivered by temporary, foreign-trained locum doctors. There is no doubt in my mind that people will die as a result of these changes. Avoidable deaths. These people could be my loved ones or yours.

This may sound melodramatic. It isn’t. The NHS is always ‘in crisis’. But it really is this time. And you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. And that is why I ask the general public to support our fight and stand by our side. It is for all of us and the greatest British institution there ever was.

There will be industrial action. We will strike and there may be ensuing chaos. But if we fail, the NHS will fall. It will be privatised. We will leave with our broken-hearts, 1000s of British citizens forced out of their own country by the Tories. But what we will leave behind is a sinking ship where the most vulnerable will drown.

This post originally appeared on Facebook and has been reproduced here with Dr Mayuranathan’s permission. Please share the status and sign the petition to help save our NHS.

Petition: The DDRB’s proposals to change Junior Doctor’s contracts CANNOT go ahead.

The DDRB have proposed to remove banding of junior doctors pay, increase their hours and only pay reduced enhanced rates on Sundays and between 10 pm and 7am each day.This is an atrocious proposition that puts the safety of patients at risk as well as doctors. IT MUST BE OPPOSED.

42 thoughts on “When doctors march something needs to change

    • Helen | Wonderfully Average

      Thanks for signing the petition! I had amazing care when my son was born too- a junior doctor delivered him by emergency c-section and gave me a healthy baby to take home. Although the pay cut is disgusting, it’s the longer working hours that concerns me the most. Xx

  1. Rosie

    Wow that was powerful writing.

    I feel so incredibly angry on their behalf as someone who works in the NHS and someone who has used services.

    When I was in labour I was told ‘there wasn’t enough staff’ for certain things and that moment had scarred me perhaps forever. More women will experience this in the future not to mention anyone else who uses NHS services.
    Rosie recently posted…An unexpected bathMy Profile

    • Helen

      Thanks for signing the petition! So many of us owe our lives or that of our children to junior doctors, the least we can do is fight to ensure they are fairly paid xx

  2. Ana De- Jesus

    I was moved by your powerful evocation of what it means to be a doctor. You work around the clock sacrificing everything to become a better doctor. I work hard but it is nothing in comparison to you. How you have the strength to keep on going amazes me and I hope that you achieve your lifelong dreams.
    Ana De- Jesus recently posted…I’m Feeling 22My Profile

    • Helen

      Thanks for your comments, Ana. I’ve seen first hand how hard junior doctors work and the sacrifices they make and they truly deserve to be fairly paid.

    • Helen

      Me too, the doctors I’ve worked with over the years are some of the most compassionate and dedicated people imaginable, it makes me deeply saddened to see what the government wants to do to them.

  3. S

    This is so worrying and upsetting. I definitely support you and your cause and wish it wasn’t the case.
    It is scary to think that I had a bad birth experience last year due to a lack of staff and that if I want to have another baby in about 5 years time, it could be even worse.
    I hope this doesn’t go ahead, I really do.

  4. Jade Lewendon

    Wow, thank you for such a powerful and interesting post, I’m not a doctor nor any health care professional and wasn’t aware of what was going on. I’ll be signing the petition as soon as I finish this comment and hope and pray something is resolved, my son was born seven week premature and has had five operations to date. I can’t respect doctors enough! Best of luck xx
    Jade Lewendon recently posted…How To Make A DIY Halloween Candy Stand!My Profile

    • Helen

      I’m so pleased that this post has raised awareness of the issue and gained a couple more signatures on the petition 🙂 I hope your son is doing ok now xx

  5. Emma T

    This is definitely wrong, Doctors should be paid properly for the critical work they do. Plus I’m sure locums would be more expensive. I do worry about the NHS turning private, and especially losing the continuity of care and knowledge that British doctors have.
    Emma T recently posted…School days and settling inMy Profile

    • Helen

      In my experience there are never enough staff because there’s no money, instead agency staff are drafted in to make up the numbers… costing three times as much. Anyone who can explain how this is a good use of resources is clearly more intelligent than me because I find it completely baffling. I love nursing but would leave the profession if the NHS was privatised because I believe it is so fundamentally wrong.

  6. Rachel (Lifeofmyfamilyandme)

    I just don’t understand why the NHS is being hit so hard financially. What all NHS staff do is crucial to our health and yet their duties are not being recognized or are being snubbed by their lack of pay. I support the march and their right to earn the right wage.
    Rachel (Lifeofmyfamilyandme) recently posted…Am I a selfish mum?My Profile

    • Helen

      Unfortunately the NHS is being run by a man who wrote the book (literally) on the best way to privatise the NHS. So I’m afraid Jeremy H*nt is undermining the staff and critically underfunding the NHS so that he can get public support for selling off a “failing” NHS to the highest bidder.

  7. Sarah HP

    Thank you for publishing this. I was aware of the industrial action but not really of what was being proposed and the impact that it cold have on the NHS. I can’t imagine doing such a tough and pressured job without fair compensation.

    • Helen Post author

      It really would be disastrous if the government succeeds in implementing the new contract, which is why I really wanted to publish this post and raise awareness.


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