Striking doctors are ‘angry, burned out and demoralised’

PMQs: Sunak and Starmer clash over NHS waiting times

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Britain’s doctors are increasingly angry and demoralised and will no longer be “taken for granted” with the NHS at breaking point, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has been told. The warning was issued by Michael (not his real name), a junior doctor based in the north east.

The 36-year-old, who qualified 12 years ago, was speaking days after his union, the Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association (HCSA) backed strike action, with 97 percent voting yes of a 74.76 percent turnout.

The decision comes ahead of a separate vote by junior doctors who are members of the British Medical Association on February 20.

Asked why he was supporting the walkout, the date for which has yet to be determined, Michael told “Pay has eroded by 26 percent in real terms since 2008 – over 20 percent since I qualified.

“And now working conditions in the NHS have deteriorated to the point where this pay simply doesn’t come close to reflecting the hard work and expertise of the job. “

It was the third year in a row that junior doctors’ pay had been increased less than other medical staff, Michael pointed out.

He asked: “Is the work we do now worth less than it was 15 years ago?

“Was our contribution during Covid less worthy of appropriate recognition? The answers to both these questions is no.”

He warned: “Workers will continue to leave if pay is not improved, making things worse.

“With the government unwilling to negotiate seriously, striking is the only way to be heard.

Asked to characterise the current attitudes among his colleagues, Michael explained: “I have not seen this level of anger and frustration since the last junior doctor strikes in 2016.

“The workforce in burned-out, spent, and demoralised – especially working through the winter crisis and not being able to provide patients with the level of care they deserve.

“One of the ‘benefits’ often mentioned about working in the NHS is the ‘camaraderie’.

“During Covid there was the knowledge that the pandemic would pass and that we were all in this together. Now there’s no longer a ‘light at the end of the tunnel’.”

As for what signal he hoped the strike would send to Mr Sunak and his Government, Michael explained: “I hope the message sent will be that the government has to stop taking doctors and other NHS workers for granted.

“We are no longer prepared to be undervalued or overlooked – we will start voting with our feet.

NHS nurse explains why she’s striking

“The public want an NHS that works for them, and the NHS can’t do that without the staff.

“If their goal is to work for the public, as a government should, then that includes maintaining a functional NHS.”

Describing a recent shift, Michael said: “Working a weekend a few weeks ago I looked after an elderly patient admitted with flu. They had a lot of underlying health problems and I reviewed them in the Emergency Department.

“I spent a long time talking to the family explaining how seriously unwell they were. They waited in the emergency department for at least 12 hours. Eventually they went to the ward. I received a cardiac arrest call.”

He continued: “As soon as they arrived on the ward, the patient arrested just from being transferred from the trolley to their bed. Despite having CPR they passed away, the family were devastated and traumatised. No-one should die like that.”

“We had only one intensive care unit bed that day – patients who were well enough could not be discharged to the medical ward. There is just no flow in the system at the moment.”

Pressed as to whether the strikes would simply make things worse for the patients who he treats, Michael said: “Patients are already suffering. The corridor in A and E is full of trolleys – they have numbers on the wall now because that is the new normal – to treat patients in the corridor.

“It feels like we are already short-staffed all the time. We wouldn’t be striking if we didn’t think it was necessary, for both patients and ourselves. NHS workers are at breaking point. Broken staff can’t keep patients safe.

“Patients have been suffering for years before these recent and upcoming strikes – because the government has not been providing and retaining the staff and services required to keep the country safe.

“If we want world-class healthcare that minimises suffering, we need to attract and keep the staff.”

Responding to Friday’s decision, HCSA President Dr Naru Narayanan said: “This result underlines the huge anger among Junior Doctors at the staffing turmoil and years of pay decline they have been subjected to.

“They have seen a decade of real terms pay cuts totalling over 26 per cent and in the past four years their pay has fallen even faster behind other doctors.”

He added: “At the same time they are trying to hold together care in an NHS which is suffering from years of neglect, leaving them emotionally and mentally broken. They face huge university debts, their training has been plunged into chaos by Covid and they are asked to fund substantial parts of their own training.”

A DHSC spokesman told “Junior doctors do an incredible job and it is disappointing some union members have voted for strike action at a time when the NHS is already under huge pressure from Covid, flu and tackling the backlog.

“Junior doctors’ pay will increase by a cumulative 8.2 percent by March 2023 as part of a multi-year pay deal which also invested an additional £90 million to provide the most experienced junior doctors with higher pay, increase allowances for those working the most frequently at weekends, and increase rates of pay for night shifts.”

Referring to Steve Barclay, he added: “The Health and Social Care Secretary met with medical unions last week for constructive discussions about the 2023/24 pay review process – recognising cost of living and workforce pressures – and was clear he is keen to continue talking.”

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