Amy, a British GP and mother of 3, sent us this insightful guest talk on how the new junior doctors contract imposed by Jeremy Hunt MP disproportionately discriminates against mothers.
“when you look at the finer details of the new contract it is clear that this government doesn’t feel medicine is a place for mothers.”
This week Jeremy Hunt imposed a new contract on the junior doctors of England. Thankfully my junior years are far behind me but they are not forgotten! For me it was only 4 years with a further 2 based in the slightly less antisocial General Practice, extended slightly longer than some of my colleagues as I popped out of training a few times to have my children. Many of the people I graduated with however remain ‘junior’ doctors, despite the fact that we left uni together more than 10 years ago. Many, like me, are mums too. Mums who had children later in life, waiting to finish 5 years of uni. Mums who are now battling the gruelling demands of motherhood whilst working the relentless on call junior rota. Demands that are about to get significantly harder.
I’ve read many pieces on the new contract and felt many things – anger, at the lies and spin put out by the Government, frustration, at the condemning comments by members of the public who have believed what the Government has told them. But nothing I have read has made me as angry as the attack on female doctors by Kathy Gyngell, co-editor of the Conservative Woman.
Her piece attempts to lay the blame for the current crisis in the NHS on selfish women who, with no thought for the greater good, have selfishly pursued a career in medicine, wantonly taken up places in medical school only to decide later on to take time out to have a family or even (brace yourself) work part time in order to spend time with that family.
It’s an interesting strategy – demonising women doctors means the public will have less sympathy for them when they complain about their new contract. For when you look at the finer details of the new contract it is clear that this government doesn’t feel medicine is a place for mothers.
Redefining unsociable hours means when doctors work till late Saturday evening they will be being paid the same as when they worked mid morning Tuesday. To be clear about this, doctors already work Saturday evenings, this will not bring about more cover at the weekends. The only change will be that the staff will now be being paid less. Out of hours childcare is difficult enough to find as it is, I doubt very much if we can convince any childminder to charge the same rates for weekend nights as for week days. And the fear is that this may not stop at doctors – once a contract has been forced through on one group of NHS staff it sets a precedent – soon nurses, carers, health care assistants, all roles traditionally held by women, will be facing the same difficulties.
The concerns don’t stop there. Currently doctors receive an annual pay rise to reflect that they become more experienced with time. Under the new contract doctors will only receive a pay rise as they progress to a new grade. For example, currently junior doctors start with 2 ‘foundation training’ years and receive a pay rise after completion of the first (that is after 12 months for a full time doctor, 24 months for someone who is working part time). This is because a doctor who has been working for a year is more experienced, knowledgeable and will have more responsibilities than one on their first day out of med school. In the new system they will not receive any increase until they have completed both years. For a part time doctor this would mean the same pay scale for 4 years. If a doctor took time out, say for maternity leave, there would be a further delay. This policy will disproportionately affect women who are more likely to be part time employees or take a break from training to start their families.
General Practice has often been thought of as a family friendly career path. The training program lasts 3 years as opposed to the perhaps 7 years secondary care specialties can take, and half of that is based solely in primary care which doesn’t have the intense rota hospital-based junior doctors face. However there is a national shortage of GP trainees with as many as 30% of training positions going unfilled. GP trainees receive a supplement so that their pay is more comparable with other specialties so as not to disadvantage doctors who choose this career. The new contract scraps this supplement. In 2014 68% of GP training posts were filled by women, so again women have to choose between family friendly work or better paid posts.
To think that it is 2016 and I’m sitting here trying to justify the belief that it is acceptable for women to work and also to raise families. But Kathy and Jeremy know not who they are taking on. We are doctors and we are mothers. We are the queens of multitasking and organising, we function on interrupted sleep or no sleep, we are selfless carers and providers. We are organised and resourceful. We have negotiated with far worse toddler tantrums than this spitting of the dummy by Jeremy Hunt.
The new junior contract is not safe, it is not fair – don’t let it be the beginning of the end of an NHS as we know it. Please support your junior doctors.
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