Leeds and West Yorkshire junior doctors crisis: ‘Lives at risk’

Junior doctors Helen Buckley and Andrew Koo speak out about the ongoing junior doctor contract row.
Junior doctors Helen Buckley and Andrew Koo speak out about the ongoing junior doctor contract row.
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Doctors in West Yorkshire fear patients’ lives, the future of the NHS and the Leeds’ reputation as a medical education hub are on the line if the Government forces through a controversial new junior doctor contract.

Yorkshire juniors, from recent postgraduates to medics with decades of experience on the wards, have spoken out about how the row is threatening their beloved health service and their livelihoods.

Many fear they could make mistakes on the job through exhaustion, some are already considering a change of career and many more are prepared to down tools to get their point across in an unprecedented strike.

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Meanwhile more than 780 junior doctors intend to protest against the Government in Leeds city centre on October 28 – the day two NHS Employers events over the issue were due to take place before they were cancelled amid the dispute.

Junior doctors have been up in arms over proposed changes to the contract, which doctors’ union British Medical Association (BMA) claims scraps safeguards to prevent them working excessive hours.

The changes would also see Monday to Saturday, from 7am to 10pm, deemed normal working hours.

At present any work done outside 7am to 7pm Monday to Friday is paid at a higher rate.

Despite a planned basic pay increase, Yorkshire medics who work regular unsociable hours on intensive care wards and accident and emergency, for example, fear the changes could mean them working more hours on up to 30 per cent less pay.

Dr James Chan, a 30-year-old West Yorkshire A&E medic, fears scrapping safeguards could put lives at risk.

He said: “You might potentially miss something and that’s really scary and that’s what drives my fear right now.

“I’m actually helpless but the children we work with for example have no decision over their health care or their safety – these changes are affecting them.”

The changes, which are proposed to come into effect in August 2016, could affect workers in more than 6,000 junior doctor posts in Yorkshire and 53,000 workers in England.

Bramhope resident Dr Phil Atkinson, 32, described the move as “an assault on the future of the NHS” that would attract fewer students into medicine and see a rise in the use of expensive locum doctors as cover.

Dr Atkinson said: “I don’t want tired doctors treating my family or them receiving substandard care because doctors are exhausted.”

Dr Omar Jundi, from Chapeltown, who works in anaesthetics and intensive care, said the financial “sacrifice” will prove too much for many. He said: “All this talent and training in Leeds is going to be wasted and moved to other countries.”

The Government first tried to amend junior doctor contracts in 2012 but talks broke down last year. The BMA has since refused to re-enter negotiations accusing the Government of a “heavy-handed” approach.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt invited the BMA’s junior doctor committee chair Dr Johann Malawana for talks over the issue last week but the situation remains the same.

Junior doctors are expected to be balloted for industrial action over the coming weeks.

Dr Kieran Zucker, who works in oncology and is on the BMA’s junior doctor committee, feels strike action must be considered as posts that involve the most unsociable hours are “chronically under filled” but the hardest hit.

He said: “There has been a huge reluctance around industrial action but the more you look at it you can see if these changes are put in place it will create a detrimental effect on the care people receive for a generation.”

Following the meeting with Mr Hunt, Dr Malawana added: “Until the Government is willing to give the BMA the concrete assurances we require we will continue with the action junior doctors are demanding.”

A Department of Health spokeswoman said changes are needed to create “a truly seven day NHS” that provides consistent care every day of the week. She said: “The fairest and safest approach for patients is to link pay to responsibility, so that doctors receive pay increases as they progress through their training.”

Junior doctors’ views:

*** Dr Phil Atkinson, from Bramhope works in anaesthetics:

“I love what I do but I’m not sure I’d recommend it to someone thinking of starting medical school any more. In 5 or 6 years’ time when they graduate the job could be very different

and that change could be for the worse.” He added: “This is something I’ve seen as deeply concerning, a clear threat to patient safety and as an assault on the future of the NHS, an institution that I am honoured to be a part of.”

Dr Omar Jundi

From Chapeltown, works in anaesthetics and intensive care

“No-one in their right mind would go to university and pay £9,000 tuition fees on top of rent and living costs for six years and accrue £70,000 of debt to work unrestricted, unsociable hours for £22,000 a year. It’s going to make medicine a really unattractive profession to go into and our GPs and other areas of medicine are already struggling to fill their posts.”

Dr Andrew Koo, a radiology trainee from Moortown

“Given what’s going on with the contracts, we [me and my wife] are considering moving countries if we need to. We would be very sad to leave an institution we all respect and love so much. Doctors in a similar position without children or a relationship are thinking of jumping ship. If someone else can provide excellent patient care and as a bonus be paid fairly and appropriately it would be silly not to.”

Louise Barnes with her son Daniel. Picture: L. Barnes

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