The British Medical Association (BMA) has announced that junior doctors are to be balloted regarding strike action.
Industrial action from the registered trade union for doctors comes in the context of new government proposals related to the contracts of trainees.
The government intends to impose these new conditions starting from August, but the BMA had indicated its opposition to the proposals.
Reforms outlined by the government have been described by the BMA as “unsafe and unfair”.
The ballot will only be distributed among trainees in England, as Scottish and Welsh trainee doctors will not face changes to their existing contracts.
Speaking on the subject, Dr Johann Malawana, the recently appointed leader of the BMA junior doctors committee, described the decision as “a reflection of the anger felt by the thousands of junior doctors who have told us that the government’s position is not acceptable”.
Malawana suggested that the government had given insufficient consideration to whether the new contract system will provide sufficient patient safety.
There are also question marks regarding whether junior doctors are being fairly remunerated for their work, and on the impact over the functioning of the health service as a whole.
“The contract they want to impose will remove vital protections on safe working patterns, devalue evening and weekend work and make specialities such as emergency medicine and general practice less attractive, even though the NHS is already struggling to recruit and retain doctors to these areas of medicine,” Malwana asserted.
It has been suggested by critics of the new proposals that trainee doctors and they could be could buy as much as 30 per cent under the government guidelines.”
In addition, under government proposals overtime rates will be scrapped for all junior doctors between 7am and 10pm except on Sundays.
With strong feeling present within the BMA, the form of industrial action that the trade union will recommend to its members is still under discussion.
Predictably the Department of Health was critical of the decision to ballot for industrial action.
A spokesman conveying the views of the department stated that it was “disappointing that the junior doctors’ committee has decided to ballot for industrial action in advance of receiving a formal offer from the government. We urge the BMA to reconsider this decision and come back to the table, because there is a great deal to discuss about how we reward the profession.”
Reporting on the issue today, The Guardian newspaper spoke to several junior doctors, all of whom painted a picture of declining pay and increasingly pressurised conditions within the NHS.
One individual suggested that once mandatory expenses were taken into consideration, she was receiving no more than £10 per hour.
Considering the extent to which qualified medical professionals are sought-after, the plans of the government could contribute to the existing ‘brain drain’.
Many qualified doctors already seek employment in pastures new, and there will be suggestions that the government’s proposals will inevitably exacerbate this existing process.