'˜We junior doctors care deeply about what we do and just want a sustainable NHS'

Today marks the start of a two-day junior doctors' strike, the latest round of industrial action over government proposals to enforce new contracts on them.Health secretary Jeremy Hunt says it will help improve care at weekends, but junior doctors insist it will harm patient safety. Here, Dr Elizabeth Butler-Meadows, a junior doctor for psychiatry across Hampshire, explains why she's taking action

Tuesday, 26th April 2016, 7:55 am
Updated Tuesday, 26th April 2016, 9:04 am
A junior doctor on the picket line

I have always wanted to be a doctor, from when I was given my first ‘doctor’s kit’ as a child, to doing my A-levels at Havant College, and through to my first job as a fully registered medic at Queen Alexandra Hospital in Portsmouth. Treating the most unwell and vulnerable has always been my passion.

However, in this last year some of that passion has been directed toward a much wider cause – the contract of junior doctors such as myself, and arguably the fight for the NHS itself.

This week, for the first time ever, junior doctors (which are all doctors below consultant or fully qualified GP) are staging a full workout of labour on April 26 and 27.

Sign up to our public interest bulletins - get the latest news on the Coronavirus

Sign up to our public interest bulletins - get the latest news on the Coronavirus

Dr Elizabeth Butler-Meadows, a junior doctor taking strike action

Firstly, and most importantly, I must point out that patient care will not be compromised, and please do seek medical care on those days if you need it.

Hospitals will be fully staffed by consultants and you will be well cared for.

The decision to strike at all was not one taken lightly by myself and my colleagues.

The government has led you – the general public, and our patients – to believe that this is about pay and providing a ‘seven-day service’. It is not. As many of you will know, we already have a 365/24/7 NHS.

Dr Elizabeth Butler-Meadows, a junior doctor taking strike action

It is currently stretched to near breaking point.

There are multiple causes here, but doctors are a finite resource due to the length and cost of their training, and our rotas are already pushing us to the limit and in some cases are only staffed to 25 per cent of capacity.

Things are at crisis point already – one A&E in Lancashire closed last week through lack of (predominantly medical) staff.

Jeremy Hunt wants to spread this already struggling service even thinner over seven days.

The sample rotas of our new contract that have been published are frankly ridiculous, swapping from days to nights, sometimes working nearly 100 hours a week. Furthermore, this new contract reduces the current safeguards over junior doctors’ hours, which help ensure junior doctors are not routinely overworked.

New shift patterns would mean the same number of doctors would be expected to cover an increased number of shifts – either spreading the workforce thinner, or increasing doctors’ hours.

Patient (and doctor) safety would suffer – tired doctors unfortunately can make mistakes. A recent Department of Health equality impact assessment also admitted the new contract disadvantages those working less than full-time – especially single parents, and disproportionately women (also those carrying out important medical research).

I have a nine-month old son, and will struggle to manage childcare costs and any time with him at all.

As I said, no doctor wants to strike. We feel that Mr Hunt’s imposition is undermining and bullying.

He has repeatedly said ‘the BMA’ is being unreasonable, but I know that the vast majority of discussions and negotiations were carried out by grassroots doctors like myself, who want the best for patients. Many, many of my colleagues have, and plan to move abroad as they are unwilling to work in a service that is becoming more and more stretched.

I am 28 years old and for the past four years have often had the responsibility of life or death decisions on my shoulders.

This is not about pay. I can honestly tell you that money is not a motivating factor for us. I and my peers genuinely care deeply about what we do, and want to return to quietly doing our jobs as best we can.

We believe in standing up for what’s right for our patients – to have a safe and sustainable NHS for years to come.