I spent a week freelancing at Times Higher Education, helping to create their World University Rankings. Here are links to a few of the articles I wrote while there:
EXCLUSIVE More than 8 in 10 senior GPs support registrars and junior doctors taking industrial action over the proposed imposition of a contract by the Government, a Pulse survey has revealed.
The survey of 866 non-trainee GPs found that 84% said they would support their colleagues in taking action following a ballot, which began today.
Of the 34 GP trainees who have responded so far, 24 said they were going to vote in favour of industrial action.
The ballot – which ends on 18 November – follows an ongoing row between the BMA’s Junior Doctors Committee and the Government, which has threatened to impose a contract on trainees that will see them given far less reward for weekend working and will remove safeguards around safe working hours.
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt stepped in with a last minute offer yesterday aimed at preventing the ballot, which he claimed would seejunior doctors being given an 11% increase to basic pay.
However, the BMA has repeatedly said that it will negotiate with the Government only when Mr Hunt lifts his threat of a contract imposition., while Government claims that only 1% of doctors will receive a pay reduction have been questioned.
Dr Louise Clift, a GP registrar in Gloucestershire, said she would be voting in favour of industrial action, and dismissed claims that the new offer would result in a pay rise,
She said: ’Jeremy Hunt is completely barking up the wrong tree if he thinks he can pull the wool over our eyes with an ”11% pay rise”. This is nothing more than a pay cut for me and the majority of my junior doctor colleagues.
’If this new contract comes in… I will not be able to afford my mortgage and seriously worry that I will lose my home.’
GPs responding to Pulse’s survey said that excessive workload, unsafe hours and lack of remuneration justifiably called for strike action.
Dr Sally Whale, a GP partner in Ipswich, said she worried about the incentives to go through junior doctor training.
She said: ‘The new contract will have several effects: those currently in training will leave; those entering training will choose the less intense and antisocial rotas; those considering medicine will think again; and Australia, New Zealand and Canada for a start must be rubbing their hands with glee.
‘We need young people to want to be doctors, to enjoy their training, to develop as well rounded individuals who care about society, and feel fulfilled, we will only get that if those currently doing the job feel valued. The NHS has possibly the most demoralised workforce. I have seen it on its knees in the past, but this time I have fears about the underlying intention.’
Emma Humphreys, a GP locum in Waveney, said: ‘What has been expected of juniors was already excessive. Pay hasn’t kept pace with inflation, juniors no longer get subsidised accommodation and the workload is enormous. No other professionals are treated so badly, with such long hours, so much responsibility and remuneration that doesn’t reflect this.’
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, GPC chair, said: ’Junior doctors form the backbone of the NHS, and have our full support in their struggle to get a fair contract that’s safe for patients.
’The current proposals will remove vital protections on safe working patterns, devalue evening and weekend work, and could have a real impact on the quality of patient care.
’The BMA has been clear throughout this process that we want to reach a negotiated agreement with the government. Without the reasonable assurances junior doctors require, the BMA has been left with little option but to continue with plans to ballot members on industrial action. This is not a decision that has been taken lightly, but the government’s refusal to work with junior doctors, and its continued threat to impose an unsafe and unfair contract, has left them with no alternative.’
Announcing the new offer yesterday, Mr Hunt said: ’Our proposals offer better basic pay with increases based on responsibility instead of time served, a shorter working week and improved patient safety. I appeal to the BMA to do the right thing and come back to the table to negotiate for its members.’
Survey results in full
[Non-trainees] Would you support junior doctors, including GP trainees, taking the industrial action proposed by the BMA over the junior doctor contract?
Yes: 84% (725)
No: 9% (77)
Don’t know: 7% (64)
[GP trainees only] Are you going to vote in favour of the industrial action proposed by the BMA over the junior doctor contract?
Yes: 71% (24)
Don’t know: 3% (1)
Some 20,000 doctors and members of the public marched through London on Saturday afternoon to protest against the Government’s proposed junior doctor contract changes.
Doctors, lawyers and political leaders gave speeches in support of junior doctors, including shadow health Secretary Heidi Alexander, 92-year-old NHS activist Harry Leslie Smith and BMA Junior Doctors Committee chair Dr Johann Malawana.
The proposed changes, which would come into effect next August, would extend junior doctors’ plain time hours, so that instead of normal pay being given for hours worked Monday to Friday 7am to 7pm with hours outside of that paid 20-50% extra, plain time would last until 10pm and include Saturdays.
Marching along Pall Mall and Whitehall, the protesters finally gathered outside Parliament to express their views.
Addressing the health secretary, Dr Malawana said: ’Jeremy Hunt, I have said to you again and again, stop attacking us. What kind of society devalues NHS staff? What kind of society devalues the very staff that deliver frontline services at 2 o’clock in the morning on a Sunday night, and do it because they care about the patients in front of them.’
Ms Alexander said in her speech: ’I’ve come here today, be under no illusion, to send a clear and strong message to David Cameron and Jeremy Hunt, that junior doctors should be paid fairly for the work that they do. I hear you when you say, it might be junior doctor contracts today, but what is it tomorrow?’
Junior doctors also rallied in Belfast over the weekend amid fears that the devolved administration will implement the changes proposed for England.
According to the BMA, propositions do away with contractual safeguards, including a 30-minute break for every four hours worked. Instead, the new contract entitles doctors to one 20-minute break in a shift of up to 11-hours.
The BMA has refused to re-enter negotiations on the contract after a plea from health secretary Jeremy Hunt last week, in which he gave a ‘cast-iron’ guarantee that pay would not fall and suggested he may be open to concessions on Saturday plain time hours.
Mr Hunt had met with Dr Malawana after learning that the BMA isplanning to ballot junior doctors on industrial action.
Junior doctors have until 23 October to update their details with the BMA to ensure they can take part in the ballot.
Speaking to Pulse at Saturday’s protest, BMA GP trainee subcommittee chair Dr Donna Tooth said: ’There are people saying that with the removal of the training supplement, they will no longer be able to afford to train to be a GP.
’There have been some assurances from the government that GP trainees’ pay won’t be affected, however until I see those assurances written down, rock-solid assurances, I can’t reassure my committee and the membership that I represent, that the future of general practice and training is secure and that our salary will be safe.’
Mr Hunt has said he will impose the contract if the BMA does not agree to changes but the Scottish and Welsh Governments have no plans to introduce it. Amid political instability, which included most ministers resigning their posts, the Northern Irish Government has not announced a decision yet.
The marches followed an earlier protest on 28 September, when about 5,000 junior doctors gathered outside Westminster. Doctors also protested on the streets of Manchester during the Conservative Party Conference earlier this month.
Practices are offering careers advice for the long-term unemployed as part of a scheme which aims to overcome health-related barriers to work.
The ‘Working Better’ scheme in Islington, north London, was launched on 1 September and will see practices offering one-on-one employment coaching.
The scheme, run by Islington Council, Jobcentre Plus and NHS Islington CCG, comes in response to the council’s independent employment commission last year, which called for employment support services to be provided in places where hard-to-help people already went – like GP surgeries.
Costing nearly £90,000, the intensive and personalised employment coaching pilot scheme has been taken up by five surgeries so far.
Dr Josephine Sauvage from the NHS Islington CCG explained that the employment drive aims to redress isolation and confidence issues, which are often associated with long-term health problems.
She said: ‘When we become ill we often stop doing those things that get us out and about and bring fulfilment to our lives. As a local GP I see and hear this every day and I’m very keen to do more to support my patients’ well-being.
‘Prescribing free and confidential employment coaching, delivered in a caring and familiar environment, could be really beneficial to a patient’s confidence and self-esteem, as well as their long-term recovery.”
Cllr Richard Watts, leader of Islington Council, said: ‘Health services are often quite disconnected from employment services and frontline health staff don’t feel comfortable talking about returning to work with their patients. We think there is much more that health services can do to promote the idea of employment for people with health conditions.’
A TV advert aiming to encourange ‘thousands’ to see their GP about undiagnosed coeliac disease it set to premiere on several channels today.
The advert, which forms part of a wider campaign by the national charity Coeliac UK and is narrated by coeliac disease sufferer and TV acress Caroline Quentin, shows people struggling with some of the most commonly reported symptoms of coeliac disease, such as frequent bouts of diarrhoea, fatigue and stomach pain.
Viewers are encouraged to fill out an online assessment form which, if the person displays any related symptom, has an irritable bowel syndrom (IBS) diagnosis or has a close family member with a coeliac disease diagnosis, prompts them to visit their GP practice for a blood test.
The charity said the campaign, which also aims to target patients via displays in GP waiting rooms, comes as it currently takes an average of 13 years for a patient to receive a diagnosis of the disease which makes sufferers intolerant to gluten.
The odds of developing the disease are one in 100 in the UK, rising to one in 10 for close family members of sufferers. Younger adults and those from lower socioeconomic classes are the least likely to have received a diagnosis for their condition, the charity said.
Coeliac UK chief executive Sarah Sleet said the TV advert, set to air on channels including ITV, Sky1 and Dave, would ‘reach millions of viewers’, and hopefully ‘put thousands suffering with symptoms on a pathway to diagnosis’, avoiding ‘potentially life threatening long term health complications’ as a result.
She said: ‘With half a million people living with undiagnosed coeliac disease we must take radical action to turn around this horrendous situation.’
NICE guidelines on coeliac disease, on which the online assessment is based, are due to be revised in September to help improve management of the disease.