Jeremy Hunt’s offer of 11% pay rise is not what it seems, say junior doctors

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has announced that junior doctors could receive a basic pay increase of 11% under the Department of Health’s latest attempt to resolve a long-standing contractual dispute.

But the offer has been described by doctors as a “cynical attempt” to “manipulate the figures” - and sway public opinion in the run up to the British Medical Association’s union ballot for industrial action, due to begin tomorrow.

One analysis of the new proposals found that the offer would actually amount to a pay cut of 26% in real terms. However, Mr Hunt claims that only 1% of the NHS’s 50,000 would see their pay cut under the new offer, with newly-qualified doctor’s pays set to rise from £22,636 to £25,500. The most recent Office for National Statistics data set the average salary in the UK at £26,500.

In a DoH statement, Mr Hunt says: “Junior doctors are the backbone of the NHS, but the current contract has failed to prevent some working unsafe hours, and doesn’t reward them fairly. We know also that they feel unsupported because consultants and diagnostic services are not always available in the evenings and at weekends.

He adds: “The new contract will be fairer for doctors, safer for patients and juniors alike, better for training, and will better support a 7-day NHS.”

According to analysis published by The Independent, the pay offer will require junior doctors to work around 30% more hours in order to obtain the stated 11% pay rise.  It reveals that a doctor on a standard contract of, for example, £20,000, which under current terms would be boosted to £30,000 via extra pay for working unsociable hours, will drop to a gross salary of £22,000 – equivalent to a pay cut of 26%.

"Smoke and mirrors"

Junior doctor Sarah Muldoon, a 31-year-old anaesthetist told The Independent that the latest offer amounts to “smoke and mirrors” tactics and described the widely reported 11% pay rise as “no such thing.”

She describes the offer as “clever manipulation of figures”, adding: “It is clearly an attempt to make junior doctors appear greedy and money-seeking while not addressing any of the patient safety concerns that we have raised.”

Responding to media coverage of the 11% offer, Dr Johann Malawana, chair of the BMA Junior Doctors Committee, told the BBC’s Breakfast programme that he hadn’t yet been privy to the proposals - which will affect around 156,000 UK doctors - as the details had been released via the media.

He adds in a statement: “Junior doctors need facts, not piecemeal announcements and we need to see the full detail of this latest, eleventh hour offer to understand what, in reality, it will mean for junior doctors. We have repeatedly asked for such detail in writing from the Secretary of State, but find, instead, that this has been released to media without sharing it with junior doctors’ representatives.

“The BMA and junior doctors have been clear that we want to reach a negotiated agreement with the government on a contract that is good for patients, junior doctors and the NHS.

Junior Dr Theatre

“Bad for patients”

“We are clear that without the assurances we require, the BMA will be left with little option but to continue with our plans to ballot members. The government have so far failed to provide these reasonable assurances, preferring instead to engage in megaphone diplomacy and plough ahead with plans to impose a contract that would be bad for patients as well as junior doctors.”

The BMA has confirmed that ballot papers will be sent out to its 53,000 junior doctor members tomorrow in respect of strike action, which could see all but emergency department doctors supporting future industrial action.

Thousands of doctors and other supporting NHS staff have taken to the streets in protest in recent weeks over the contract changes, which are expected to come into force in August 2016 and are likely to include a change to the classification of 'normal' working hours, currently set between 7am and 7pm Monday to Friday. Normal working hours are expected to be expanded to between 7am and 10pm Monday to Saturday, which means additional pay for working longer, unsociable hours will be lost - amounting to a hefty pay cut for many doctors.

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