Junior doctors have engaged in a mass protest in London, as conflicts with the government over proposed contract changes escalates.
The British Medical Association contends that the plans of the Conservative government will lead to a significant drop in the salaries of junior doctors.
However, the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, has stated that the union is misleading its members, and that the proposals will be beneficial for junior doctors in terms of reducing their maximum weekly working hours.
Unquestionably there has been huge pressure on doctors of all levels of seniority in terms of their overall working hours.
But the British Medical Association rejects the claims of the Health Secretary, and instead states that the rally in Westminster is a “wake-up call for ministers”.
Aside from the March in London, thousands of junior doctors also attended rallies in Belfast and Nottingham.
Critics of the government scheme believe that it will be extremely detrimental to the living of junior doctors, and may even lead to a ‘brain drain’ of talented individuals to health services overseas.
The British Medical Association asserts that the new contract will involve pay cuts of up to 30 per cent, with the change in normal hours central to this.
Hunt intends to extend this period to 07:00 to 22:00 every day except Sunday.
Speaking to the BBC, the Health Secretary claimed that the motivation for the new contracts was to ensure that hospitals no longer have to incur financial penalties for rostering staff on at weekends.
He was also keen to emphasise that the government would be willing to negotiate over safeguards that will enable doctors to work less hours.
However, the suggestion that removing financial penalties that force hospitals to roster less at weekends is the motivation for this contractual system does appear to be a rather self-defeating argument.
If healthcare services are able to save money under the new contractual scheme, it is hard to see how this could possibly be achieved without paying junior doctors less.
By definition, this is precisely what junior doctors are striking about, so the comments of Hunt will undoubtedly be considered extremely disingenuous by many.
Nonetheless, Hunt called for the British Medical Association to return to the negotiating table, claiming that the contracts represent a good deal for doctors.
In particular, the Health Secretary stated that the maximum hours a doctor can be asked to work for will be reduced from 91 to 72 hours per week.
Weather a 72-hour week can really be considered acceptable, considering that the European Working Hours Directive states that no one should work for longer than 48 hours per week, is debatable.
Naturally this still means that doctors can experience a working week that is 50 per cent more than the supposed European maximum.
Doctors speaking at the protest indicated that the new contractual proposals would represent an unprecedented pay cut for them.
One individual who spoke to the BBC indicated that after diligently assessing the government’s proposals, it had become clear to him that he would experience a 15 per cent reduction in salary.
This was an individual with 11 years of experience dealing with casualty patients on a daily basis.
The issue is set to rumble on, but it certainly appears that the government has an extremely difficult position to defend.