There 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