Junior doctors are to challenge the government over their falling pay in real terms with a campaign which highlights that they are paid a lower hourly rate than some store workers are to get from April at the food retail chain Pret a Manger.
As thousands of doctors prepare for a three-day strike in England from Monday, the British Medical Association (BMA) is to highlight how the cost of living crisis risks driving them out of the profession. Most junior doctors are starting their careers with tens of thousands of pounds in student debts.
Pret announced earlier this month that it was giving staff a third pay rise in 12 months, with its baristas able to earn up to £11.80 to £14.10 an hour depending on location and experience. The highest hourly pay in the new rates starting from April includes a bonus for providing good service.
In contrast, the basic hourly pay of junior doctor can be as low as £14.09 in the first year of work-based training. This is based on a full-time salary of £29,384 for foundation year 1 for 2022-23.
Dr Becky Bates, a junior doctor in the East Midlands, said she supported the pay rises given to Pret staff. “It’s incredibly impressive they have given repeated cost of living pay increases this year. It’s a shame the government has not seen fit to do the same for the people who work in the NHS.”
Bates now has more than £100,000 in student debt and is paid just £14.09 an hour for her current training role in paediatrics. She said: “When I started in the summer, I just had £80 in my account to last for a month. I couldn’t get a salary advance and I couldn’t afford to eat. I was borrowing money from family and friends.
“It’s going to be potentially very hard for some doctors to continue in medicine, and I don’t think you should be required to have family wealth. We want people who are at the top of their game to become doctors, from whatever background.”
Junior doctors were balloted earlier this year on strike action, voting overwhelmingly in favour. It was the largest ever turnout for a ballot of doctors by the BMA.
Julian Hartley, chief executive of NHS Providers, the membership organisation for the NHS hospital, mental health, community and ambulance services, this weekend called for talks to avert the strike. “We would like to see both sides enter into negotiations, as soon as possible, even at this 11th hour.
“There’s still time to avert this if they get around the table. That will be much better than protracted industrial action, which will only worsen the levels of the backlog of patients waiting for treatment.”
He said there would be a significant number of cancelled operations and appointments if the strike went ahead as planned. “It’s very concerning because of the scale and duration of this industrial action. There are no derogations, which mean emergency departments, intensive care units and cancer wards will all need to be largely covered by consultants. It means, of course, that they cannot then be performing their normal duties, and a lot of activities will not be possible as a result.”
He said a priority for the government was delivering a properly-funded workforce plan, addressing the challenges of vacancies, retention, recruitment and working conditions.
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. 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.
“We have invited the BMA to enter formal talks covering pay for this current financial year and next, with new investment in pay for doctors and dentists in training.”