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Junior doctors could earn more serving coffee at Pret, says union

BMA launches ad campaign highlighting low wages, as coffee chain hikes pay

Adam Forrest
Sunday 12 March 2023 10:03 GMT
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UK protest backs health staff as doctors prepare to strike

Junior doctors’ leaders have launched an advertising campaign ahead of a strike over pay, saying some NHS staff could earn more serving coffee at Pret a Manger.

Members of the British Medical Association in England will launch a three-day walkout on Monday following a huge vote for industrial action.

The BMA said newly-qualified medics earn £14.09 an hour – less than a barista is set to earn in the high street coffee chain. The union said junior doctors in England have suffered a 26 per cent real-terms cut to their pay since 2008-09.

Launching the campaign on Sunday, the BMA said: “Pret a Manger has announced it will pay up to £14.10 per hour. A junior doctor makes just £14.09.

“Thanks to this government you can make more serving coffee than saving patients. This week junior doctors will take strike action so they are paid what they are worth.”

But the government said the comparison with Pret workers was “misleading”. A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “This comparison is misleading as it does not take account of the additional earning capacity and pay progression available to junior doctors.”

They added: “The most experienced junior doctors now have a higher pay band – meaning they received a cumulative increase of 24% over four years. We’ve also increased rates of pay for night shifts and created a permanent £1,000 allowance a year for junior doctors who work less than full time, on top of their usual pay.”

Dr Becky Bates, a first-year junior doctor in the Midlands, said she was still “completely dependent” on others. “With tuition fee loans, credit cards and personal loans, I’ve left medical school with over £100,000 debt, and now my wages are not even enough to allow me to fix my car when something goes wrong.

She added: “I come from a single-parent family. I don’t come from money, yet at 28 I am relying on my mother taking out credit card debt so I can meet these expenses. It’s humiliating for me and it’s not fair on her.

“Looking ahead, I have to move to a different hospital in a different city as part of my training but have no idea how I’ll fund this if I need to move house. I can’t even afford to pay for the exams I need to progress in my career.”

Dr Bates said she can be responsible for more than 400 patients a night, but felt her skills and responsibilities were “completely devalued”. She added: “My situation is far from unique, and this is why me and the overwhelmingly majority of my colleagues have been forced to take to the picket line this week.”

Dr Robert Laurenson and Dr Vivek Trivedi, co-chairmen of the BMA junior doctors committee, said: “Is £14.09 an hour really all junior doctors are worth? These are people who can be providing life-saving care, having trained intensively at medical school, and racking up around £100,000 worth of debt in the process.

“We are fully supportive of any worker getting an inflation-matching pay rise, and it is worth thinking on the fact that the government has cut junior doctors’ pay by so much that they could earn more serving coffee.

The BMA figures said junior doctors were looking for jobs abroad or leave the profession because of low pay. “Losing such valuable clinicians to other countries and professions when waiting lists are at record highs means patients will suffer even more than they are already,” the co-chairman said.

“This is why doctors are going on strike. We are fighting to restore our pay. We are fighting to restore our value. We are fighting to restore our workforce to make the NHS an effective healthcare system again.”

Health secretary Steve Barclay said the scope of the looming strikes “presents a real risk to patient safety which should pose difficult ethical dilemmas for our hard-working junior doctors”.

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, he said the 35 per cent pay rise demanded by the union for junior doctors was “simply unaffordable”, costing around “an extra £2 billion to the taxpayer at a time when we’re making real progress on our promise to halve inflation”.

Mr Barclay invited the BMA junior doctors for pay talks on Friday night, but they rebuffed his offer the next day, saying they were disappointed by the “offer of talks being made so late, and with preconditions that would be completely unacceptable to our members”.

The 72-hour strike from Monday is expected to have a bigger impact than any action by health unions since December, with junior doctors across England expected to withdraw from A&E departments, cancer care, maternity, and planned care.

NHS medical director Stephen Powis also warned that it could take “some time” to recover from the huge disruption to cancer care and operations.

He said it was “inevitable that the extraordinary pressure caused by what could be the worst strike in NHS history will have a significant and lasting impact on cancer care and routine operations”.

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