I am a British doctor who trained at University College London and graduated in 2012. I spent the first two years of my working life in London and then opted to travel for a year and decided to spend my time working in Australia. I never left.
My intentions were good when I came out here in 2014 to live in the sunshine, travel and to experience healthcare outside of the NHS. After only three months in Australia, however, I decided to extend my stay to two years. And after what’s happened in the UK with young doctors, I now imagine I’ll never be able to go home.
In July of this year, I decided to apply for jobs in the UK and aimed to start training in August 2016, craving the familiarity of home. But the very next day, Jeremy Hunt made his infamous speech about the “Seven Day NHS” and stated that doctors needed to “get real” about working conditions. He sparked #ImInWorkJeremy, fuelled by the anger of doctors whose real lives bore no resemblance to his speeches. And he threatened to impose new contracts if the BMA didn’t bow down. Suddenly, the prospect of returning home seemed much less appealing.
Since then, there has been much in the press about 1,600 junior doctors requesting a “certificate of good standing” from the General Medical Council, which would entitle them to work abroad – and I am not surprised in the least. I am not encouraging a mass exodus; far from it. I am advocating fairer treatment for all NHS staff, which will make us want to stay in the system that we were once proud to be a part of.
Currently, I work in a system that requires doctors to do 38 hours a week. For every hour that I work beyond my contract I get paid double with “social hours” being defined as between 8am and 6pm, Monday to Friday. We get a 50 per cent bonus for Saturdays and 100 per cent on Sundays. This is bearing in mind that our basic salary is already higher than the UK equivalent, including their banding supplement –which means my salary as a junior doctor is about the same as a first year consultant in the UK.
But it’s not about the money. It’s about everyone’s right to a quality life outside of work. Here, we work either a “four days on, four days off” pattern, or like in my case, any eight days – often whichever eight days I choose to work. Working eight days in a row here is acceptable, but frowned upon. Why? Because this is bad for patient safety and morale. Seems like a no-brainer really, doesn’t it?
Doctors in the UK work twelve days in a row, regularly, and no one bats an eyelid. In Australia, I have the luxury of requesting the shifts I work and I can take annual leave almost whenever I want. I honestly believe that I am more likely to attend a wedding in London travelling from Sydney than if I were living and working in Manchester.
Until I arrived in Australia, I had no idea what it meant to enjoy your job. I thought I enjoyed my foundation training. I loved the people I worked with and we connected on a deep level because of the emotional journey we shared, both with the patients we helped and the camaraderie shared because of the tedious hours that we worked.
Now I enjoy coming to work because my colleagues and patients respect me. We are treated fairly, and everyone works together to provide a world class service. Morale here is high because people are not deprived of their family time, are shown compassion in times of need, and are rewarded appropriately for their level of skill, experience and expertise.
Despite all of this I am desperate to move home. I miss my friends and family and I wish I could see them more often. However, these new contracts make me feel like the Tory government is doing everything in its power to stop me. They know that we are loyal to our patients and to the NHS, and have chosen to exploit that. Coming home now would not only mean working double the hours for half the pay, but also that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy my time with the people I love simply because that time would no longer be there.
We all want a better NHS. We want the best possible healthcare for the best possible price. But treating our doctors like they are an expendable part of the work force is not the solution to the problems that face our struggling system.The government’s actions read like an attempt to dismantle the National Health Service altogether, and these new contracts will encourage some of the most skilled and highly trained professionals in the UK to flee to greener pastures.
Australia might be ten thousand miles away, but right now it has never been closer for the doctors who face contract imposition that will take us back twenty years. The decision that faces junior doctors today is simple: work in a job you are made to hate by overwork and underpay, or move abroad, where you can enjoy a sensible work-life balance for appropriate remuneration. If these contracts go through, to me the choice is clear – and it will be for so many more.Reuse content