CARRY ON DOCTOR

KildareThere aren’t many professions that could be called honourable, though it is ironic that one of the most discredited in recent years – that of Member of Parliament – should have all those who belong to the club dignified with the prefix ‘honourable’. It is these far-from ‘honourable’ gentlemen and ladies who have recently been exercising their recurring habit of trying to squeeze as much as they can out of another profession whilst parting with the minimum amount of money, in this particular case junior doctors. That rather misleading term doesn’t mean they’re making impossible demands on Doogie Howser M.D., but on any doctor, from those who’ve just graduated from medical school to those who’ve been in the business of saving lives for a decade. Yesterday, junior doctors embarked on a further 24 hours of strike action in protest at the Government’s obstinate refusal to budge on their new ideas for the NHS.

Last November, the Government promised an 11% pay-rise for junior doctors, but soured the pill in the small-print with plans to increase the working hours, especially at weekends. Cutting corners in a time of ‘austerity’ has become a hallmark of Cameron’s reign, though patients whose lives are in the hands of overworked and underpaid medical men aren’t receiving much in the way of consideration, particularly when the uniquely charmless Health Secretary Jeremy Rhyming-Slang Hunt starts spouting his spiel.

He was confronted by emails from junior doctors during his appearance on the Andrew Marr Sunday morning show last week, but remained resolute in shifting the blame onto the BMA. ‘Mr Hunt has made me feel demoralised, insulted and cheap; he implies we are the problem,’ said one of these emails. ‘It’s so grim on the frontline now; I sometimes work 14 or 15 hours straight without a second even to eat.’ The starting salary for a doctor is just under £23,000 a year – top end of the scale nearer £70,000. For an MP, let alone a Cabinet Minister such as Mr Hunt, the average annual salary is £74,000. All aboard the Westminster gravy train!

The average salary in the UK is £27,000 a year, reduced to under £22,000 once the likes of National Insurance, taxes and student loan payments are taken into account. Police officers earn under £25,000, below the national average. Teachers fare a little better at just under £34,000, though which is the most stressful profession of the two is arguable: coming into daily contact with criminals who can at least be put behind bars or coming into daily contact with surly adolescents whose most severe admonishment is suspension.

And talking of stressful jobs, fire-fighters earn an average of between £21,583 and £35,664 depending on rank. Nurses start on a salary of £21,692 and can progress as high as £34,876. Still pales next to the salary of an MP, doesn’t it. Remember – £74,000 a year. Which provides the most necessary service to the public? It’s evident from the statistics alone that those within society whose professions can contribute towards the saving of lives – doctors, nurses, fire-fighters and the police (on a good day) – earn a pittance in relation to the vital importance of the job they actually do.

By contrast, bankers in the City of London can earn upwards of £550,000 a year, depending on how long they’ve been in the business (and that doesn’t include bonuses). These men were more responsible than anyone else for the economic meltdown of 2008, yet they seem largely immune to the cutbacks imposed on professions that play a rather significant part in the continued running of society.

Mind you, some men who kick a football around a pitch for 90 minutes at Premier League grounds every weekend earn more than all essential professions are paid over twelve months in the space of a week. In this country’s top ten of highest-paid players, Chelsea have a trio of footballers whose weekly wage is between £185,000 and £200,000. Yes, that’s what they take home a week. Chelsea are currently 13th in the table.

Junior doctors haven’t gone on strike at the drop of a hat; the vast majority have done so out of sheer desperation. They’re not led by some self-aggrandising bolshie 70s throwback looking for a fight. Negotiations between doctors and government have been ongoing ever since the proposals for a seven-day NHS were first mooted three years ago, but yesterday’s 24 hour strike has now resulted in a threat from the Government that they will impose their contract if this goes on. The BMA were prepared to accept half of the 11% pay rise offered on the condition that extra payments for working on Saturdays were retained; the Government rejected this proposal and have continued to badmouth the BMA and dispense disinformation within the media to support their stance ever since.

However, just as cutting police numbers and proposing the reduction of street lighting seems an odd way to go about crime prevention, expecting junior doctors to work longer hours without additional pay appears a curious strategy on the part of a government professing to care about the wellbeing of patients. The situation appears to have reached an impasse. Doctors who are enduring 14 or 15 hours without a break from a job in which a clear head and the ability to concentrate are crucial qualifications should be top of the list when it comes to the PM’s favourite phrase, ‘Hard Working People’. Put your money where your mouth is, Mr Cameron, and reward that hard work.

© The Editor

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8 thoughts on “CARRY ON DOCTOR

  1. From the Mail (yes, I know), 2012…. and I doubt if his salary has been frozen since then (but I couldn’t find more recent figures):

    “Jeremy Hunt pocketed £366,000 last year from his outside business interests, it emerged yesterday.

    The millionaire Health Secretary received the bumper payout from the publishing firm Hotcourses, which he helped set up before entering Parliament.

    The payments include a £285,000 dividend and £81,000 for renting the company a building it used as its headquarters.

    The cash is on top of his Cabinet minister’s salary of £134,565, which took his income last year to more than £500,000.

    An aide last night stressed that Mr Hunt has not been involved in running the firm since 2009.

    ‘He is a shareholder and is paid a dividend but he has no control over how much he is paid,’ she added.

    ‘It is not a second job and it does not impact on his job in any way – it is just a shareholding like someone owning shares in BT.’

    Nevertheless the scale of the payments may raise eyebrows among low paid Health Service workers who are suffering a Government-imposed pay freeze.

    Mr Hunt, 45, who is married to a Chinese woman, has previously courted controversy by charging the taxpayer for lessons in mandarin. The lessons, which he has been taking since 2009, when he got married, have cost more than £3,000 to date.”

    What I find particularly puzzling about the “7 day NHS” is why haven’t we heard anything from the radiologists, receptrionists, consultants, phlebotomists, porters, cleaners, caterers etc who will also be working extra hours. Or will those Junior Doctors be doing that work too?

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  2. It’s just been announced on BBC news that the Rhyming-Slang is going to impose his new contract on junior doctors. Could anything be more childishly petty and vindictive? The likely result is even fewer overworked, underpaid, junior doctors on the wards as they decide to (a) go elsewhere, or (b) choose another profession. But, hey, let’s not forget that the staffing short-fall will further reduce the NHS’s costs!

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  3. This is not a simple wage-equation and it needs to be set in the wider context of the medical profession.
    I respect the skills of doctors, just as I respect the skills of car-mechanics, electricians and many others, all of whom can have our lives in their hands every day, and all of whom are continuously learning and developing throughout their working lives. But the input/reward profile is different.
    Doctors invest more in their early days, taking longer to start earning, but they can then progress quite rapidly to a very high level of earnings, especially when you include the whole-of-life pension benefits, to levels far in excess of those other professions.
    The period of being a ‘junior doctor’ is but a step on that scale of progression, a step where the balance of hours and reward has not yet reached its zenith, but which is a necessary, albeit temporary, step towards that goal.
    It is unfortunate that this stage occurs for most doctors in their late twenties or early thirties, the very time at which they would like to be enjoying a freer social life and climbing the housing ladder, so you can understand some distress if the balance of reward does not always match their expectation. However, no-one forced them to become doctors, they knew the ground-rules and these have not changed markedly or negatively, despite what the activists may chant.
    Another key facet possessed by the medical profession, one used cynically since 1848, is the facility to hold any government to ransom until its palms are crossed with gold – that’s how the Labour Government persuaded doctors to join in 1948 and they’ve played that card ever since with great success.
    Here’s a test – calculate the whole-of-life earnings for an average NHS doctor (including NHS pension income), then divide it by the number of hours worked in that lifetime – I guarantee that the overall hourly rate will be one of the highest of any employee in any other trade.
    Is that excess margin worth more than the car-mechanic or the electrician ? Think about that next time you press the brake-pedal or switch on your electric shower.

    I am not apologising for Jeremy Rhyming-Slang, a man as devoid of morals as he is of charisma, nor am I promoting any particular poltical slant, but it’s important to look behind the moment and put the current dispute in the correct context for its participants.

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      1. May I, currently in my cups, politely say what a load of twaddle. Not every Junior makes it to consultant, and the hours worked delivering life and death decisions far outweigh those taken in normal hours by electricians and car mechanics. Do they put in 14 hour shifts in A and E?

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      2. As I said, context is everything – if you compare the whole-of-life reward for the average doctor (not just the consultant-type) with all other jobs which hold risk to life (e.g. a bad gas-engineer could kill a whole town), then you get some measure of the input/reward profile. Take the knee-jerk emotive stuff out of it and it looks somewhat different.

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  4. I recall a yarn from one of my Great Uncles ( a Mancunian doctor) who, when asked by a wealthy patient how much he owed, replied “half as much as you were prepared to pay when you thought you were going to die”. Which makes me ponder just “how much” would Hunt be prepared to pay to save his own skin.

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  5. “Context is everything.” Indeed it is. A HGV driver cannot, by law, be at the wheel for more than 4.5 hours before he must take a 45 minute break. He is restricted to driving no more than 9 hours a day and then must have a minimum of 11 consecutive hours of rest. He is to work no more than 56 hours in a week and no more than 90 hours within a two week period. Coach Driver regulations follow very much the same pattern. A Junior Doctor is allowed only a 20 minute break after 6 hours!

    Now, the charmless Hunt never tires of repeating the mantra that the new contract will see Junior Doctors working no more than a 72 hour week as opposed to the 91 hours of the previous contract. What he fails to tell you is that this 72 hours is actually an average of hours worked taken over not a two week period,as with HGV and coach drivers, but over a 26 week period! Yes welcome back to the bad old days of the 100+ hour week.

    So yes, context is indeed everything. I don’t want my life or anyone else’s put at risk by overtired truck or coach drivers and I most certainly don’t want my life to be in the hands of someone who has already worked more hours in a week than the HGV/Coach driver would be allowed to work in a fortnight! That is the Context!

    P.s. None of this should be an issue, of course, as “The European Working Time Directive” was passed in 1993 to ensure a standard maximum 48 hour working week for all, but a previous Tory administration “Won” us an opt out from it! 🙄

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