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Junior Doctor Strikes

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Junior doctors are set to call for a full walkout for the first time in the NHS’ history following their recent partial walkout over government proposals. But what is the reason behind these strikes and why have plans sparked such controversy between the Junior Doctors and the government?

The BMA's junior doctors' committee announced in August that it was withdrawing from talks with the government relating to the renegotiation of contracts. But what did these proposals contain? Pay cuts of up to 30 per cent, changing of shift patterns and the slashing of premium rates for doctors working unsociable hours on every day apart from Sunday. The BMA and junior doctors believe that this is extremely unfair, some have warned that it may even force them to travel abroad in order to find work.

In an attempt to avoid the strike threat, Jeremy Hunt offered a new set of proposals. He explained that the government would allow for some assurances about pay. A compromise of overtime rates was the main change. For example; Saturday evenings would still be treated as unsocial hours, giving doctors premium rates on this day. Overall, basic pay would rise by 11 percent, he said, with three quarters of junior doctors seeing a rise in pay. Not only this, but Mr. Hunt stated that most doctors would have their pay protected until 2019. Only 1 percent of doctors would see a decrease in pay, but will this be enough to stop the protests?

The BMA have long argued that the hectic environment that doctors work in make it far too easy to work dangerously long hours. This shows that the demand for doctors at this current moment in time is extremely high and there just simply isn't enough to cover the patient care required. It argues that the rules should go farther for example, it wants consecutive long shifts to be capped at three rather than the offered five. One of the main sticking points on the new proposal is that on the face of it, an 11% increase in basic wage seems like a good deal, however this is not the whole story. The new terms decree that the definition of unsociable hours, for which Junior Doctors currently receive an increased wage, be redefined potentially significantly reducing the pay of a Junior Doctor working night shifts and therefore being an effective wage cut for a huge number of junior doctors.

These strikes and indeed proposals have the potential to have a lasting effect throughout the whole NHS and the importance of these negotiations is clear to see by the actions of both parties. With 2 more walk outs scheduled, one of which a total walkout in which emergency care will not be covered, pressure is mounting to come to an agreement on this very important issue.

David Cameron has today announced that he thinks that both parties are close to an agreement, however he has stated that should the negotiations not meet the governments aims that the contract change could be forced upon Junior Doctors telling BBC Radio 4 that “we can’t simply go into a situation where the junior doctors have a complete veto, block over progress in our NHS”.

The BMA council chairman has said that they are open to speaking with the government at any time but there has to be recognition of the strength of feeling among junior doctors of concerns over patient’s safety and recognition of the importance of junior doctors to the NHS. 
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