Junior doctors cut back on food and heat to pay bills

by Ben Ireland

BMA survey finds 70 per cent taking on extra shifts as debts pile up and burnout intensifies

Location: England
Published: Monday 19 December 2022
cost of living

Burnt-out junior doctors piled with debt are cutting back on food and heating to make ends meet as they continue to call for restoration of pay levels which have fallen 26.1 per cent since 2008.

A BMA survey of 4,500 junior doctors as part of preparations for an industrial action ballot found 45.3 per cent struggle to afford their rent or mortgage and 50.8 per cent have had difficulty paying to heat and light their homes in the last year.

Amid the ongoing cost-of-living crisis, 29.8 per cent of junior doctors – who often take on high levels of student debt and pay for their own medical exams – have used their overdraft for consecutive months to pay bills.

A similar number, 27.7 per cent, say they have not repaid their credit card for consecutive months while 49.5 per cent have borrowed money from family or friends in the last 12 months.

To make ends meet, 71.4 per cent of the respondents say they have undertaken extra shifts on top of their contracted hours in the past year.



Becky Bates, a foundation year 1 junior doctor working in the East Midlands, has a base rate of pay of £14.09 an hour.

She said: ‘This is my first year working in the NHS as a qualified doctor and I could never have anticipated spending it so skint. I love my job and am proud to be a doctor but the state of my finances is a constant stressor.’

Dr Bates added: ‘Each month, on top of the student-loan repayments taken from my salary, I repay £400 of private debt I had to take on to cover my fees through medical school – debt I took on the basis of what my salary would have been five years ago.

rebecca bates 34046 BATES: Three credit cards

‘I graduated from medical school with two overdrafts and three credit cards and I just don’t see how I will be able to climb out of this hole any time soon – never mind begin to consider taking on the additional cost of the exams needed to continue my career as a doctor. I had to take on an additional shift just to be able to afford to fix the headlights on my car.

‘When I couldn’t afford to eat in August, I had to borrow a credit card from a family member because I wasn’t eligible for a salary advance despite starting in July.

‘I am planning to look into workplace support available but I will only become eligible once I have been working six months in the NHS. I can’t take on salary sacrifice because my training means I move to a new trust in August 2023.

‘I’ve started using my annual leave to work additional shifts in the NHS. I know I’m not alone in this. This simply isn’t sustainable especially when on busier rotas – we deserve rest too.’


Mental health complaints

In a BMA survey carried out earlier this year, 62 per cent of junior doctors said they were suffering from a mental health condition related to or made worse by their work.

The GMC’s national training survey earlier this year also found a growing number of junior doctors feeling exhausted and burnt out by their work.

The BMA’s revelations come as junior doctors have endured more than a decade of real-terms pay cuts, with their pay having fallen 26.1 per cent between 2008/09 and 2021/22; one of the steepest falls in pay for any workforce. 

The association says this year’s pay announcement has caused morale to fall steeply, with the Government giving junior doctors another real-terms pay cut through its 2% rise. UK inflation is running at 10.7 per cent.

While the NHS in England is already short of more than 9,000 doctors in secondary care alone, the BMA is concerned poor pay and working conditions will lead to more doctors leaving for better paid roles at home and abroad.


Future in question

Robert Laurenson and Vivek Trivedi, co-chairs of the BMA junior doctors committee, said: ‘Constantly worrying about how to pay our bills is leading many junior doctors to question their future in the NHS.

‘While pay has fallen off a cliff since 2008, mandatory costs, including exam, royal college and licence to practise fees, indemnity cover and even hospital car parking, have increased.

Vivek trivedi TRIVEDI: Lives on the line

‘Junior doctors put their lives on the line to care for patients during the pandemic but this contribution has been ignored and morale is plummeting fast as many face hardship at home and a raw deal at work.

‘This Government needs to stop pretending that the pressures we’re seeing this winter isn’t a crisis of their making, stop ignoring our calls to meet with ministers and sit down and offer some reasonable practical solutions while there are still juniors doctors left in the NHS.’

The BMA is to ballot junior doctors in England on industrial action in the new year. The ballot opens on 9 January.