Junior doctors railed against planned contract changes at a large protest in London last night. Over one thousand trainees marched on Downing Street following the decision made by the government to impose a new contract, which detractors have said will jeopardise patient safety and disincentivize young doctors to remain in the UK.
This march represents a new low point in the growing saga of contract changes. Representatives from the doctors’ union, the British Medical Association (BMA), first held talks with Department of Health representatives in 2013 following the publication of an independent report recommending changes to the remuneration of over 50,000 junior doctors employed by the NHS. However, these talks broke down in October 2014, with the BMA accusing the government of a ‘heavy-handed’ approach. Ministers have therefore chosen to impose the terms of the contract upon junior doctors working in England. Trainees in Scotland will continue to work on the existing contract, while devolved authorities in Northern Ireland and Wales have yet to come to a decision.
With junior doctors potentially set for a 25-30% pay cut, a significant change in the classification of ‘social hours’ and financial penalties for taking time out of training to have children or conduct research, the BMA has now balloted its members regarding industrial action. This has prompted Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to propose a meeting with BMA representatives this week. However, with a growing impasse developing, the prospect of the first doctor strike in 40 years remains likely.