Support in a time of change

by Andrew Wilson

As the changeover period gets under way, the BMA Northern Ireland junior doctors committee is working hard on behalf of new doctors in a challenging landscape

Location: Northern Ireland
Published: Thursday 28 July 2022
Andrew Wilson

Changeover is time of mixed emotions and possibility for new medics. 

For foundation year 1s, their first jobs as doctors are daunting and exciting and a culmination of their years at medical school.

For foundation year 2s it is new beginnings of a different kind as they rotate to new specialties, some with entirely different demands and skills, and perhaps start to realise what area of work they want to specialise in. 

I look back on my own changeover experience from F1 to F2 and still remember that fear of the unexpected and uncertainty of working in a new job, hospital, area and specialty, with the added responsibility of being the one who the F1s would now look to for advice initially. 

Getting new passwords for IT systems, dealing with HR paperwork and finding accommodation added to the stress of changeover. However, like any new job, practice makes perfect, and as I gained knowledge and experience things became much easier.

The landscape is a lot different for today’s new doctors. COVID-19 brought unprecedented challenges to the health service and junior doctors are to be commended for their commitment to ensuring it continued to function and patients continued to receive safe, effective, good quality care. 

However, the effect of the pandemic response continues to show in high levels of exhaustion among this branch of practice across the UK. Only this month the GMC National Training Survey 2022 detailed that 63% of the trainees were either at moderate or high risk of burnout. 

Providing basic workplace rights and entitlements such as timely rotas and adequate facilities continue to be a stumbling block for health service employers in Northern Ireland, with both areas scoring poorly among trainees across all health trusts in the survey.

Add in yet another sub-inflationary pay award in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis, new doctors can be forgiven for starting their first job out of medical school with a sense of trepidation. 

But you are not on your own. The Northern Ireland junior doctors committee is in your corner every step of the way.

One area of work the committee will be focusing on is the implementation of the recommendations outlined in the Fatigue & Facilities Charter.

The committee will be working to ensure trusts take heed of the simple steps that can be taken to improve facilities and reduce fatigue, so doctors can safely, effectively, and efficiently care for patients. Many of you will have seen the media coverage of the BMA annual representative meeting held at the end of June, in particular, the debate on doctors pay erosion.

We, in the BMA Northern Ireland junior doctors committee, will be making improving pay and conditions for all junior doctors within Northern Ireland through contractual change a key part of our work for the next year.

Members of NIJDC will continue to represent junior doctors in Northern Ireland on the SLE LNC local negotiating committee. We are delighted to note that all hospital-based training programmes have now been transferred to SLE and this means the administrative burden on trainees rotating should now be significantly reduced and trainees will all have a single contract of employment for the entire duration of their training programme.

Junior doctors are a vital part of the NI health and social care workforce, yet we know many are unsure of their contractual and workplace rights. With that in mind I would urge you all to avail of some of these BMA services as you embark on your new roles:

  • Use our contract checking service for new contracts before signing; make sure your working hours are correct with the Riddell Calculator
  • Download and read our #TakeControl digital leaflet that provides a handy at-a-glance guide on six key areas of your working life as a junior doctor, including important contact information should you need further support.

As always, our BMA first point of contact service is available by calling 0300 123 1233 or email [email protected], to answer any concerns or queries.

It has never been a tougher more uncertain time to be a doctor, but know that NIJDC and BMA – with your support – will continue to do our upmost to improve the working lives of our members. 

Andrew Wilson is chair of the Northern Ireland junior doctors committee