Emily Thornberry Labour MP for Islington South and Finsbury
Emily put in to speak during today’s debate on the proposed changes to Junior Doctors’ contracts, but due to such high interest in the debate she was not called to give her speech. You can, however, read the full text of what she would have said below.
Junior Doctors’ contracts
Our National Health Service is one of this country’s greatest assets but it is under threat.
It is under threat from a funding and workforce crisis, which this Government is failing to address.
Morale is already low and I fear that the junior doctors’ contract could force some doctors to rethink their futures within the NHS. I wrote to the Secretary of State about GP trainees last month, asking him to justify the proposed reduction in starting salaries. I received a response from the Minister for Care Quality which merely stated that: ‘this Government was elected on a mandate to deliver a seven-day NHS’.
Let me first say that the NHS already offers seven-day emergency care. But to provide the same staffing levels at weekends as we do during the week, the British Medical Association says that the NHS will need an extra 38,000 doctors on top of the 95,000 we already have.
These doctors will not be available at the flick of a switch when this new contract is imposed so the direct impact it will have on existing doctors over the next few years cannot be underestimated.
We know that the NHS should be available to everyone whenever they need it but this must not be at a cost to doctors’ working conditions and patient safety.
We also know that doctors, nurses and other medical staff already work exceptionally long hours, not for money or recognition, but to ensure that they provide the best patient care possible.
This is why I was disappointed when talks between the Department for Health and the British Medical Association broke down last year.
Even more so when the Secretary of State announced that he would push ahead with a new contract regardless of their concerns.
The BMA says that the new contract is unsafe and unfair.
Why is the Government not listening to doctors?
Even one of its own MPs, Dan Poulter, has raised concerns about this -; stating that the contract ‘raises the prospect of 90 hour weeks being written into rotas’. How can the Secretary of State reconcile this with safe patient care? We would not expect lorry drivers or pilots to work such long hours so why is he demanding it of our doctors?
I have been contacted by a number of doctors living in my constituency -; one junior doctor, who said “I do not have a work-shy bone in my body” told me of her experience of working 12-hour shifts in A&E. She has a 5 year old daughter, and she said “there were points in this rota where the only time I got to see my daughter was 30 minutes in the morning” -; and she went on to say “the changes proposed to the junior doctors’ rota will break us, and once the junior doctors are broken, quite frankly the NHS is not far behind”.
Doctors in my constituency are worried that this new contract will lead to poorer working conditions, a poorer work-life balance and poorer patient safety. A number of my constituents have suggested that they are likely to look abroad for work if this contract is enforced.
It is not right that doctors are being driven away from the profession or to seek work abroad because the Secretary of State refuses to engage with their concerns.
None of the doctors in my constituency want to go on strike over this but feel that they have no other choice.
This is not about money, it is about patient safety and the future of our NHS.
If these changes go ahead, we risk losing our skilled doctors to other countries at a time when the NHS is already in the midst of a workforce crisis.
We know that there is a shortage of GPs, for example, but this new contract would remove the supplement for GP trainees which gives them parity with doctors working in hospitals.
How does the Government expect to deliver their manifesto promise of 5,000 new GPs while penalising trainee doctors based on their choice of speciality?
The truth is many people can’t even register with a GP. Closures of GP surgeries since 2013 have forced more than 160,000 people to find a new GP. We are losing too many GPs and we are not recruiting enough. GPs are an essential part of our NHS but this contract will do nothing to ease the increasing strain that they are under. It seems to me that the best thing the Secretary of State could do at this stage is re-enter into a dialogue with the BMA, taking into account their legitimate concerns about patient safety.
Nye Bevan once said that ‘the NHS will last as long as there are folk left with the faith to fight for it’.
This is what we have to do.
We have to fight for it.
So I urge the Secretary of State to wake up and listen to the doctors who are best placed to know what is right for their patients.