Tearful doctor scorns long hours

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The Independent Online
BRITAIN'S DOCTORS still endure Victorian working conditions that make a mockery of the Government's pledge to modernise the NHS, doctors leaders said yesterday.

In a speech that galvanised the British Medical Association conference in Belfast, Andrew Hobart, 34, an accident and emergency specialist at Birmingham Children's Hospital and chairman of the junior doctors' committee, accused the Government of reneging on promises to reduce hours and improve conditions. The final insult was the decision to allocate an extra bank holiday on 31 December without extra pay. As junior doctors receive overtime rates of half normal pay that meant a pay cut for working over the millennium.

Dr Hobart declared: "This government says it wants to modernise the NHS yet it perpetuates Victorian working conditions for the most vulnerable junior doctors." Fighting back tears, he received a standing ovation after adding: "This is not just about junior doctors. This is about what sort of health service we will have in the 21st century."

Mr Hobart later revealed that meetings would be held with the Health Department on Monday at which junior doctors would demand overtime rates in line with other workers of time and a half. If talks did not resolve the matter a ballot could take place in September and industrial action could start by the end of the month, he said.

Kate Adams, from Whipps Cross Hospital, Essex, said she went 34 hours without sleep in her first weekend on call: "If I was a pilot or lorry driver working 34 hours with no sleep, I'd be on a criminal charge."

Historically, overtime rates have always been below normal pay because juniors doctors long hours meant that otherwise they would have earned more than consultants.

Peter Hawker, chairman of the consultants committee, accused ministers of going behind the backs of the profession to negotiate a delay in the implementation of the European working time directive, which sets a 48- hour maximum working week. The Government has secured a 13-year postponement for the NHS.

The health department said ministers were implementing measures to improve conditions.