From October 2016, new doctors in England were given a rewritten employment contract from their predecessors. Affecting a vast range of areas, from how much doctors can expect to get paid to whether they can switch specialties later in their career, it’s a controversial shake-up that sparked protests across the country.
But what effect does the contract really have and why were the changes brought in?
Firstly, although referred to as the ‘junior doctor contract’ frequently, the changes actually apply to all doctors below the consultant levels, so experienced, senior doctors are affected too. The changes were strongly opposed by many working in the medical profession, but they were eventually agreed on following negotiations between the government, NHS Employers, and the British Medical Associations – although the BMA voted against the new junior doctor contracts but did suspend strike action.
The changes were made following the recommendations of an independent body that aimed to improve patient outcomes across the week. It’s a reason that many of those affected rejected.
So, what are the key changes that were made?
- Weekend work – Moving forward, weekend work is considered a normal part of the average doctor’s working week as part of the government’s pledge to create a ‘seven-day NHS’. However, most professionals that work at least seven weekends throughout a year will experience an uplift in their pay as a result.
- Basic pay – The 55,000 junior doctors that are part of the UK did receive a basic pay rise of around 10%, however, this was below the 13.5% previously pledge by the health secretary Jeremy Hunt. According to Hunt, the lower increase is a consequence of changes to other areas of pay.
- Night work – The amount doctors receive when working night shifts – when working more than eight hours between 8pm and 10am – has fallen. Previously factors enjoyed an extra 50% for a shift, this has fallen to 37%.
- Safeguarding junior doctors – Much of the dispute over contracts focussed on the pressures that junior doctors face to work excessive hours, putting patient health at risk. To combat this concern, each NHS trust must now have a junior doctor forum that will advise guardians, whose role it is to ensure safe, effective working conditions.
- Improved equality – Doctors that work part-time or take time our of the profession will now benefit from a greater level of support. Those returning to work will have access to a mentor and targeted accelerated learning programmes to help them get back up to speed.