Doctors warn controversial new contracts will put Camden patients at risk
- Credit: Image supplied by Dr Reena Aggarwal
Junior doctors at the Whittington, Royal Free and University College Hospitals are protesting over “unfair and unsafe” changes to working contracts that will put patient safety at risk, it is warned.
Hundreds of local doctors will be affected by controversial changes to pay and working hours - and many joined the 20,000 march on Whitehall this weekend waving “Save the NHS” placards.
The stark message to health secretary Jeremy Hunt was that doctors will not accept the new contracts without a fight.
Among the crowd was Dr Animesh Singh, 34, who has worked at the Royal Free, Whittington and St Mary’s Hospitals, and is now in a research position.
He said: “I remember the 120 hour week that my dad, as a junior doctor, had to work in the 1980s and I remember him describing the fatigue and exhaustion and the clinical difficulties that caused.
“Now our working hours are monitored and hospitals are financially penalised for working us way beyond our hours, but the new contract will remove the financial penalties.”
Dr Reena Aggarwal, a registrar in obstetrics and gynaecology at the Whittington, also at the march, said: “Junior doctors are already providing a seven-day service. The crucial point is we do not want to go back to the days of working 90 to 100 hours a week.
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“It will have a massive impact if we have tired and demoralised doctors, they’re much more likely to make mistakes and that will have an impact on patient safety.”
All doctors who are not yet consultants, including many highly skilled medics with up to 15 years experience, will be affected by the new contract due to be imposed next August.
Critics say it will reclassify normal working hours and remove vital safeguards that discourage hospital trusts from making doctors work dangerously long hours.
The British Medical Association, the union for doctors, says “normal hours” will be changed from 7am to 7pm Monday to Friday to 7am to 10pm Monday to Saturday.
Extra payments for unsociable working will be earned only outside these times, which doctors say will result in a pay cut of 20 to 40 per cent for many.
Industrial action is on the cards after negotiations between the government and the BMA broke down.
Dr Yannis Gourtsoyannis, 32, an infectious diseases registrar at University College Hospital, pictured at the march with two policeman wearing BMA stickers, said: “I’ve never seen such a huge gathering of NHS nurses and doctors, there was an electric atmosphere and incredible anger at what the government is trying to push through.
“The government does not have the best interests of the NHS or patient safety at heart. The message that we’re trying to send is stop belittling doctors.”
A Department of Health spokesman said: “This is not a cost cutting exercise, we are not seeking to save any money. The proposal will improve patient safety by better supporting a seven-day NHS.
“This contract will not impose longer hours and we will ensure that the great majority are at least as well paid as they would be now.”