On 28th October I spoke in the Opposition Day Debate on Junior Doctors' contracts.
Joan Ryan (Enfield North) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander) on securing this important debate and on her powerful opening speech. As she will know, health services in my constituency have already suffered greatly at the hands of the Conservatives. Two years ago they downgraded Chase Farm hospital, axing both our accident and emergency and maternity services and breaking every promise they made to local people.
Now they are seeking to implement changes to contracts that I believe are unfair on doctors and pose significant risks to patients, both in Enfield and across the country. That view has been reinforced by the number of doctors from Enfield North who have contacted me to express their serious concerns. Dr Irene Gafson is one of my constituents and has been a junior doctor for eight years. She took part in the march in London earlier this month and carried a sign bearing Nye Bevan’s famous words that the NHS“will last as long as there are folk left with the faith to fight for it.”
Members may have seen the thought-provoking and insightful article she wrote for The Daily Telegraph after the event. Two things in particular struck me when I read her piece. The first was the deep sense of privilege she and her colleagues feel about being doctors. It is not just a job, but a vocation. These are hard-working, dedicated professionals who care passionately about what they do.
Sherriff (Dewsbury) (Lab): I spent some time in a busy city hospital last week with doctors who told me that many junior doctors now feel so demoralised that there has been a flood of applications to receive the certification to go and work overseas, so much so that the department that deals with that process has had to take on extra staff just to deal with the number of applications. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is very worrying indeed?
Joan Ryan: Absolutely.
The second point Dr Gafson highlighted was the level of disillusionment in the medical profession with the Government’s plans. She said:
“Whilst the sense of solidarity and unity amongst junior doctors” on the march “was tangible to all, there was a much sadder force underpinning our mood...People who have invested years of passion into their work are feeling demoralised. This unique day that brought so many doctors together in one place really served to illustrate how dangerously low levels of morale amongst junior doctors have sunk.”
Dr. Gafson voiced her strongest criticism for the way in which these contracts had not been negotiated with doctors and how the proposals threatened the safeguards on working hours. Significantly, she voted for the Conservatives at the last election:
“I trusted them with the NHS and I feel let down. I actually feel embarrassed”.
Dr. Gafson is not the only one. Another local doctor who does not wish to be named contacted me to express her grave concerns at how the changes could impact on the NHS as a whole. She said that in a meeting last week a significant number of her colleagues were discussing alternative career plans and many were considering a move abroad to practise in another country. She said:
“If these reforms go through then the frontline specialties such as Accident and Emergency, General Practice and acute medicine will be hardest hit, and these areas are already undersubscribed”.
She went on to say:
“I am gravely concerned that if these changes go through they will signify the start of the dismantlement of the NHS.”
The Secretary of State should heed those words. They are an indictment of how the entire situation has been handled. If what is being offered is a “good and fair deal”, as he has described it previously, how does he account for the upset and concern the offer has caused? Is he willing to publish in full the financial models being used to calculate the proposed changes to contracts so that doctors can know exactly what they can expect to be paid? If he is not willing to do that, junior doctors working evenings and weekends have every right to be concerned that they face a possible pay cut.
Finally, is he willing to accept that removing the safeguards that penalise hospitals that force junior doctors to work in excess of their contract hours has the potential to overburden doctors and compromise patient safety?
I, therefore, urge the Secretary of State to stop his continued and unwarranted attacks on the BMA and to get back to the negotiating table and offer a deal that is fair to doctors and safe for patients in the context of talks without preconditions."