BMA Scotland: Junior doctor exodus risk if pay and conditions do not improve

by BMA Scotland media team

Press release from BMA Scotland

Location: Scotland
Published: Wednesday 8 March 2023
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Scotland’s NHS faces a “mass exodus” of junior doctors if the Scottish government fails to make working in the NHS an attractive and rewarding career choice, BMA Scotland said today.

A recent snap survey of BMA Scotland junior doctor members revealed that 44% - more than four in 10 – of respondents have actively researched leaving the NHS in the last 12 months – with only 15% of those who responded saying they are sure they will stay in the UK and work in the NHS long-term.

The survey – which received 730 responses – also found:

  • More than half (55.78%) have already worked extra paid overtime or taken on additional shifts to meet their financial needs in the past 12 months, while almost 80% expect to have to take on a second job in the coming year.
  • One fifth (19.27%) have experienced difficulties paying their rent or mortgage at some point in the last 12 months.
  • 95% are worried – with 51% saying they were “very worried” – about the impact of the rising cost of living on their personal situation.

The BMA in Scotland will open a ballot of junior doctors on strike action over the Scottish Government’s approach to pay on March 29th.

Dr Chris Smith, chair of the BMA’s Scottish Junior Doctor committee, said: “These figures should be extremely worrying for all those who rely on our NHS and it is clear that junior doctors, which make up a large and crucial part of the workforce in Scotland have simply had enough. Years of below inflation pay ‘uplifts’ coupled with rising costs of living have left junior doctors feeling underappreciated, undervalued and demoralised.

“Our survey results show us that more than four in 10 doctors are actively researching leaving our NHS – which would leave massive gaps in an already stretched workforce and seriously threaten quality of care. The health service is already on its knees – it simply cannot afford to lose any more valuable members of staff, but this is where we are now: we risk a mass exodus of junior doctors in Scotland if the Scottish government does not take immediate action.

“It is shameful that 80% of those who responded to our survey are reporting they will need to take on a second job in the coming year just to meet their financial needs. Many junior doctors already work around the clock and being forced to take on a second job or additional shifts will only further increase the risk of burnout and exhaustion – leading to safety concerns not only for them but for their patients too.

“Junior doctors in Scotland are ready to stand up and be counted – and we will open our ballot on strike action later this month. Our pay has been eroded over the last 15 years and we are not worth 23.5% less than our counterparts in 2008 – we do not carry out 23.5% less work. That’s why doctors deserve pay restoration based on our skills and sacrifices. We shoulder enormous clinical responsibilities; we make complex and consequential decisions in high pressure environments, and we provide an essential service for the people of Scotland. That alone should justify a wage that mitigates against the cost-of-living crisis, covers our examination fees and sufficiently values the job we do. It is disgraceful that there are some junior doctors in Scotland earning as little as £14 per hour and as a result some are struggling to pay their rent or mortgages and heat their homes.

“Actions speak louder than words – this is the Scottish government’s chance to make amends – and they can do so by entering into meaningful and direct negotiations with us over pay restoration within the next 5 years.  By doing so they can finally begin to resolve the retention crisis our NHS faces, securing staffing for generations to come, while at the same time averting the strike action we are currently compelled to ballot on. Committing to full pay restoration for junior doctors is – among everything else that needs to be sorted in our NHS – a quick fix. It is a down payment on the future of the health service in Scotland and will show junior doctors that they are valued, they are appreciated: junior doctors are the future of Scotland’s NHS – we cannot lose any more.”

Notes to editors

The BMA is a professional association and trade union representing and negotiating on behalf of all doctors in the UK. A leading voice advocating for outstanding health care and a healthy population. An association providing members with excellent individual services and support throughout their lives.

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