Charmaine Morgan’s column: ‘We must not take the dedication of junior doctors for granted’

LCC and SKDC Labour Councillor Charmaine Morgan
LCC and SKDC Labour Councillor Charmaine Morgan
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Amid ongoing issues with recruitment in United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust, junior doctors have been protesting at Pilgrim Hospital over Government plans to alter the terms of their pay and restructuring of working conditions.

Proposals would extend current standard hours (already in a wide band) between 7am – 7pm to up to 10pm at night thereby reducing the amount of income junior doctors receive in overtime.

The basic starting salary for a junior doctor is around £24,000 a year. However, the doctors are also raising safety concerns and argue that the new proposals will remove the existing safeguards, intended to reduce the risk of poor judgement through tiredness that result from working too many, or, ‘unsafe’ hours. The term ‘junior’ relates to any grade below Consultant and therefore may include very experienced doctors with years of practise. We cannot afford to lose such highly skilled and valuable people. Nor should we take their dedication for granted.

To improve NHS services at weekends, where current statistics indicate increased death rates, serious investment in recruitment and training of all staff needed support services over weekends is required. Squeezing existing staff and causing such angst as to jeopardise our entire NHS hospital service is not the answer.

Some argue that the poor handling of this situation needs further examination. A report analysing Conservative peers in 2014 identified that 62 out of 217 Conservative peers have direct or indirect financial interests in private healthcare services equating to 28%. A number of those peers are also significant party donors. The rules only require members to declare interests but do not prevent their participation in key policy making in the area of their financial interest. Whilst there may be benefits to having debate by those with experience in an industry there is also a risk of a conflict of interest.

It is also hugely concerning that new changes to grants donated to charities from May will in effect have rules that will deny charities a voice. Important issues identified through the activities of some key organisations will not be shared with Government ministers. In the meanwhile lobbying by other interest groups is continuing.

In a BBC article Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, is reported as saying this is an “insane policy”. Shutting off access to the important information charities provide is at best short sighted.

Others may think it is the action of a Government that simply does want to know about the challenges its people face.