There are few things I value more than education: health is one of them. I also think it is the moral obligation of any wealthy, industrialised country to provide its citizens with healthcare that is free at the point of service rather than leaving people to the mercy of private companies where the major motive is profit and I am completely certain that without the NHS neither I nor most of my loved ones would be healthy or even alive today.
I am therefore horrified by the proposed changes to the contracts for junior doctors on the NHS
Since news of the new contracts became public many current doctors and medical students have voiced their opposition - including wondering how they would be unable to cope with pay cuts between 25% and 40% and concerns about the effects long hours would have on their concentration and patient safety. People have detailed the significant costs to practicing medicine - the 6 year degree that at present will see students graduate with £54,000 in debt for tuition alone, the compulsory registration for the GMC and other professional bodies and the the hefty indemnity insurance. Not to mention the resistance to the reclassification of normal working hours to include Monday to Saturday 7am to 10pm.
Not being a physician myself, I may not be able to speak from personal experience of practising medicine. However I have taught many students who were hoping to go to medical school and so can speak to the level of dedication and diligence these people had. I was lucky enough to work with students who, even in Year 10, were doing extra work to ensure they achieved an A* in all their subjects and then saw their workload increase massively as they began on their A level courses. They spent hours volunteering in local hospitals, on extra circular activities, went through additional tests (BMAT, UKCAT, GMSAT), gruelling interviews and all in addition to getting spectacular grades.
And that was just to get into medical school, never mind successfully completing the course or embarking on any of the post graduate training required.
The amount of dedication and academic ability these students showed left me in no doubt that they could excel in numerous other careers if they ever decided to leave medicine. It also made me certain that their motivation was not simply a well paid job as there would be many other professions where they could command much higher salaries for the same amount of work (or even less).
I also do not envy anyone who is embarking on such a long university degree in the era of £9,000 per year tuition fees. True, these fees are paid by all students and not just prospective doctors but a medical degree is twice as long as many full time bachelor degrees and, given the massive workload, leaves students less able to take on part time and holiday work to support themselves. Not to mention the substantial costs of living in many parts of the UK. I have lived in London for over ten years and am still staggered by the cost of rental accommodation so can never quite forget the financial burden anyone who studies in London is taking on.
The question over what constitutes normal working hours is also rather familiar to me. Although my schedule is nothing compared to those typical for medical professionals I do know something of how working into the evening and at weekends disrupts time with family and friends and can leave a person isolated because they end up out-of-synch with almost everyone else. Jeremy Hunt insists that when changing the allowance for anti-social hours the basic pay for junior doctors will be adjusted to compensate so that no one loses pay — although I am mystified as to the calculation behind this and, even if it were true, worry that it would cause doctors to chose specialties with less night and weekend work (e.g. dermatology) over those that are 24/7 out of necessity (like A and E).
I notice that the integrity and selflessness of so many in the medical profession has continued even in their protests against the new contracts. How easy it would be for the doctors to simply walk away, let the NHS collapse and then find new jobs in private healthcare (which would be experiencing an unprecedented increase in demand) where they would have both better working hours and higher salaries. But so many doctors continue to fight, even when the general public will suffer far more than they will as a consequence of doctors becoming dangerously overworked and leaving the NHS. How sad it is that this fight was ever theirs in the first place.