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As we enter 2020 and the beginning of a new decade, there is much to reflect on for junior doctors and for our trade union from the developments of the previous year.
We have achieved much that we can be proud of. Last year, under the chairship of my predecessor, Jeeves Wijesuriya, we finally secured the resolution of the long-running dispute over junior doctors’ terms and conditions of service in England, agreeing a contract that was overwhelmingly approved by our membership. Implementation of these changes range from improved pay for weekends to safer working hours limits, the benefits of which we have already begun to see on the ground.
We gained shared parental leave for junior doctors in England, and enhanced rights to child bereavement leave. We have also seen continued improvements to the updated system for study budgets. This should now ensure access to funding for all courses to meet your curriculum and PDP requirements, beyond just that which is mandatory, enabling us to address some of the cost barriers to widening participation.
We also secured a victory in Hallett v Derby, a case I brought forward initially to the High Court in 2018, then to the Supreme Court last year, to challenge unsafe working and which centred on proper monitoring of rest breaks. It confirmed the number of breaks that trainees attained were often overestimated, resulting in trainees being underpaid. We continue to encourage members who also undertook monitoring using the Zircadian / Allocate system and therefore might have faced financial loss to get in touch with us – we can support you in bringing forward a claim.
We secured millions of pounds in funding to address fatigue that junior doctors face whilst at work, and this is being spent in accordance with our fatigue and facilities charter to improve facilities and reduce fatigue. Our wellbeing mapping project, which centres on wellbeing services for healthcare professionals, continues with a repository of relevant support services on our website. The BMA has also launched a mental wellbeing charter, aimed at promoting workplace practices to improve the health and wellbeing of doctors, and we will be monitoring its implementation and promoting good practices throughout 2020.
Despite these and other substantive gains, there are many challenges that we will face in the year ahead – Brexit is on the near horizon, the lack of sufficient funding for the NHS remains an issue of pressing concern, and chronic staff shortages show no signs of abating.
In recent years, there have been a number of reports from various organisations that have aimed to tackle the problem of morale and wellbeing in the medical workforce. As I reflected in my recent blog, however, it is now crucial that we move from defining the problems and considering solutions, to real and tangible action. The BMA will continue to fight for junior doctors’ rights and for a properly funded and staffed NHS that continues to provide excellent patient care, and that also recognises and cares for the wellbeing of its medical workforce.
It is important to remember that the work for improved employment conditions for junior doctors across the UK is not done, and we must still ensure the successful implementation of the revised 2016 contract in England. We must build on the gains we won in 2019, and also in areas where more work needs to be done, bringing the crucial issues that you raise with us to our joint negotiating committees and discussions with Government.
In 2020, we also expect to see the recommendations of the review into the gender pay gap in medicine which the BMA junior doctors committee has spearheaded, and where we have heard from many of you about some of the challenges and barriers you have faced. The less-than-full-time pilot for emergency medicine which introduced greater flexibility for trainees has been extended, and expanded to include trainees specialising in paediatrics and obstetrics & gynaecology.
I, like many of you, was hugely disappointed to see unacceptable behaviours outlined in the Romney report into sexism and bullying at the BMA. As chair of UK JDC, I am committed to ensuring that equality within the BMA is taken seriously. All representatives should be able to speak up and feel that their union properly represents them – such behaviour has no place in the BMA, or indeed, in the wider NHS.
Over the many years I have spent at the BMA, I have been passionate about widening participation in medicine as well as within the BMA, and I am committed to building on the work we have done in this area in 2020.
I have no doubt that the year ahead will be just as eventful as those in recent memory. That is why I remain ever more convinced of the importance of being part of your trade union. As a member of the BMA – ensure you make the most of the support your union offers you. Use our free contract-checking service and have an expert ensure your contract adheres to nationally agreed terms. Check that your rota is correct and you are working within the safety limits and getting the appropriate rest. Contact our specialist employment advisers or your local representative to support you with any issues you face on the ground.
Join your LNC, and get more involved in the BMA – the success of a union is built on its members. The gains that we make are only ever possible because of the sheer strength and passion of our membership. Therefore, as we enter this new decade: to every rep in each trust, everyone who stood on a picket line in the freezing cold, anyone who filled out a survey or spoke to us, all those who lobbied us, those who gave up their time organising meetings and events: thank you, and we will all continue working for change.
Sarah Hallett is chair of the junior doctors committee