Medicine courses at university have some of the most competitive and gruelling entry requirements. I know, because I am currently applying.
I know, because I am currently applying. The severity of the competition is daunting but misleading. The tough application process suggests a saturation of doctors in the NHS workforce. The reality is otherwise.
A recent analysis by the Care Quality Commission found that around 75% of UK hospitals struggled with severe staff shortages. Every year 3,000 foreign medical professionals are recruited in an attempt to compensate for the shortages. So what’s creating this deficit when medicine courses nationwide are apparently oversubscribed?
Although the UK arguably boasts one of the best health systems, the new junior doctors’ contract supported by Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, highlights some of the flaws in the profession that result in our doctors leaving. To compensate for a short staffed health service, many junior doctors often exceed the current standard 60-hour weeks and figures from the BMA show that a third of the take-home salary for many doctors is generated by working extra hours. The standard working week for junior doctors is currently considered as being 7am-7pm, Monday-Friday. Any work outside this period receives premium pay as recognition of the impact of unsocial hours on their personal and family life. The new contract will extend the working week to 90 hours thereby removing premium pay. As a would-be doctor the idea of a reduced salary doesn’t really deter me from my aspirational goal of serving my patients. After all, at this early stage the financial incentive hardly drives my career choices. But as someone who also hopes one day to bring up children, increased antisocial hours and minimal family time suggest just one thing - that one day I might have to choose between a medical career and my family. I do not know what I would choose. Can we as a society place such selfish demands on our doctors and expect them to stay in the National Health Service?
We demand their time and now we’re expecting it not to be compensated. We want our doctors to work a little harder, stay at the hospital a little longer, with no recognition or compensation for their dedication. Whilst this is a profession that will never be driven by income, suggesting we scrap premium pay for junior doctors highlights a mentality rife in our society: that these people are here to serve us as it suits us, without consideration of their lives. We forget that our doctors have an existence outside of the hospital.
In the three days following the announcement of a new contract, the General Medical Council has received nearly 2,000 applications from doctors wishing to practise abroad. Doctors have had enough and a mass exodus could soon be a reality.
The new contract is meant to be the first step to a 7-day NHS but so far all it has succeeded in doing is convince doctors to leave these shores. Perhaps it was a step in the wrong direction.
-- Taonanyasha Jaji is a student at King Edward VI School, Bury St Edmunds