New Year porter's pay beats surgeon's

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SURGEONS WHO stitch up millennium eve casualties will be paid at one-third of the rate of the porters who wheel them in at some hospitals, doctors' leaders revealed yesterday.

Ministers' refusal to sanction extra payments for NHS staff working over the new year holiday has infuriated the British Medical Association (BMA), which has balloted junior doctors on industrial action. The results of the ballot, called because of growing discontent over long hours and low overtime payments, are to be revealed at the junior doctors' annual conference next month.

Yesterday, BMA leaders said junior doctors were the only professional group to be penalised by the declaration of 31 December as an extra public holiday, which will halve their earnings. Junior doctors, whose long hours have historically meant low overtime rates, are paid half their normal rate for working on public holidays so will lose pounds 100 over the 24-hour period.

Newly qualified house officers, whose normal rate is pounds 8.04 an hour, will collect pounds 4.02 an hour. Porters, normally paid pounds 3.53-pounds 5.42 an hour, have been offered over pounds 10 an hour for working over the millennium by some NHS trusts.

Liverpool University Hospital has offered non-medical staff treble time and other trusts, including North Hampshire and Lothian, are expected to follow suit shortly, according to a survey by the magazine Personnel Today.

Finance directors of trusts say the pressure of competing for staff with bars and restaurants has forced them to pay premium rates but there are no competing demands for medical staff.

"For the first time we may see porters earning more than senior registrars," said one.

A circular issued by the health department urged trusts to "draw on the tradition of public service" to resist pay demands over the millennium and to offer "non-pay rewards". No national funding would be provided for extra payment, although trusts were free to make their own arrangements, it said.

Ian Bogle, chairman of the BMA said: "This circular is condescending and offensive. It sends a signal of the most offensive kind."

Industrial action, if backed by the association's 30,000 junior doctor members, could range from a ban on form filling to withdrawal of all labour, except for emergencies.

Andrew Hobart, chairman of the junior doctors' committee, said at night doctors were often made to push trolleys and fetch and carry because, on their low overtime rates, they were cheaper than porters. "The longer NHS trusts make juniors work, the cheaper they are per hour. If junior doctors were more expensive in anti-social hours that would encourage trust executives to employ porters to push trolleys and ancillary workers on the wards."

Dr Hobart said ministers should show their appreciation for medical staff by joining them on the wards on New Year's Eve.

Evan Harris, Liberal Democrat spokesman on health and a former junior doctor, said doctors with families faced particular problems because of the difficulty of finding child care. "Not only is there a millennium baby problem, there is a millennium babysitter problem."