Debate on the future of the NHS in Yorkshire will climax in Leeds this week – and it is time we stood up to be counted.
More than 2,300 junior doctors, medical students and NHS campaigners from across the county aim to do just that by taking to Victoria Gardens on Wednesday and voicing their opposition to planned changes to the contracts of junior doctors.
It surrounds fears that caps on the number of hours worked by young doctors could be scrapped and that what are termed as “unsocial hours” will be changed to mean vast cuts in pay for some staff.
It sets a worrying precedent that many, such as terminally ill Leeds doctor Kate Granger, believe could be the start of a raft of cost cutting changes. She fears the likes of midwives and nurses may be next.
In reality junior doctors represent a vital cog in the running of departments like A&E and intensive care which involve long hours – the British Medical Association argue they will be the worst affected by the contract changes.
There are 6,000 junior posts in Yorkshire alone filled by doctors ranging from recent postgraduates in their mid 20s to experienced medics who have been saving lives for 15 years or more – the term ‘junior’ is misleading.
Government argues that the changes are necessary for a truly seven-day NHS, while the move is “not a cost-cutting exercise” but the reality is that if unpopular amendments are made against the will of many, it paves the way for further moves that could have a huge impact on staff and patients.
Some argue the future of the NHS depends on the outcome of the junior doctor row, so to see the county rallying sends out a compelling message.
WHAT THEY SAID
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt tried to reassure the British Medical Association (BMA) that the changes are not a cost-cutting exercise, doctors would not receive reduced pay and that longer hours would not be imposed earlier this month.
He said that negotiations began due to a “shared view” that the current contract needed reform. He added: “The best deal for junior doctors will be achieved by the BMA coming to the table to negotiate.”
But Dr Johann Malawana, BMA junior doctor committee chair, responded by saying they still need “concrete assurances” over pay, safeguards and how unsociable hours are defined.