The BMA’s industrial action ballot for junior doctors in England has opened today.
If a majority of junior doctors vote in favour of strike action, with at least a 50 per cent turnout, they will walk out for 72 hours in March.
The BMA is calling for restoration of junior doctors’ pay to the levels of 2008/09, since when it has calculated it has eroded by 26.1 per cent.
Junior doctor members should receive their ballots no later than 16 January, and are asked to contact the organisation if they haven’t received it by then.
The last day to join the BMA in time to vote on industrial action is 8 February, and the organisation says 16 February is the last ‘safe’ day for juniors to post ballots ahead of the 20 February closing date but please do return your ballot papers asap.
Last week, the organisation again urged health secretary Steve Barclay to meet with BMA representatives for talks to help avoid industrial action. He is the only health secretary not to have met with the BMA in more than 50 years, the organisation said.
The BMA has repeatedly called on the Government to reverse these pay cuts to help keep doctors in the NHS and alleviate the staffing crisis preventing the NHS from tackling record waiting lists and giving patients the care they need.
The association says there is no option left than to ballot junior doctors in England for strike action, with patients ‘suffering’, staff ‘exhausted’ and the Government ‘preferring to treat the public as fools with assurances that the NHS has all the resources it needs’. It is encouraging junior doctors to lobby their MPs to commit to full pay restoration using this form.
If junior doctors vote to strike, hospital trusts must arrange emergency cover to ensure patient safety during the action. The BMA said it will be giving trusts and the Government enough notice to prepare for this to ensure that patients whose appointments are cancelled know well in advance and that employers can manage medical rotas to ensure emergency care is no different to any other day.
In a series of interviews ahead of the ballot opening, junior doctors have told The Doctor of a range of issues prompting them to vote to strike. These include deteriorating working conditions, stress and burnout, cost of living pressures, huge student debts, a lack of protected time for training, paying for compulsory exams, and the level of responsibility expected of a so-called ‘junior’ doctor.
Cost of living
A survey of more than 4,500 junior doctors carried out by the BMA between 21 November and 4 December 2002 found 98.9 per cent of junior doctors are worried about the effects of the rising cost of living on their personal situation, with 71 per cent ‘very worried’
More than half of doctors said they had difficulties paying utility bills, and 45 per cent struggled to cover rent and mortgage payments and essential travel such as commuting to work.
A further 84 per cent have cut down on discretionary spending, such as for holidays, 81 per cent reduced the amount of heating they use to lower bills and 78 per cent have reduced their spend on food shopping.
Half of respondents said they have been forced to borrow money from friends or family to keep afloat, 30 per cent have been in their overdraft for consecutive months and 28 per cent are unable to pay off their credit cards each month.
6 per cent of junior doctors said they had borrowed money from pay day loan companies, three per cent had accessed hardship funds and two per cent had used a food bank to make ends meet.
12 per cent of junior doctors responding to the BMA survey said their outgoings exceed their income each month, with 71 per cent working additional hours on locum shifts within the NHS to get by, 49 per cent working paid overtime and 14 per cent working a second job.
As many as 79 per cent of junior doctors said they often think about leaving the NHS, with 65 per cent saying they have actively researched doing so in the last year, 40 per cent planning on taking a career break and a further 40 per cent ready to leave the NHS for the next job that comes their way.
The main reason for this was the current level of pay, which 85 per cent attributed to wanting to leave the NHS, followed by both erosion of pay and poor working conditions each cited by 83 per cent of respondents.
Three quarters (76 per cent) of respondents said they knew colleagues who had left the NHS to work overseas, 72 per cent said they knew doctors who had left to work in a different role or profession and 33 per cent said they knew of people moving into private healthcare.
Of those who said they hoped to work as a doctor overseas, Australia was the most popular choice with 40 per cent looking to the destination followed by 20 per cent favouring New Zealand with nine per cent of respondents turning to the Middle East and a further 9 per cent attracted by Canada.