Originally published 27/5/15 in the Observer on Sunday
Dear Mr Hunt,
You may or may not remember me. I am a newly qualified GP, but I spoke at an NHS Alliance meeting last year when I was still in training, and you were there. You heard me talk about the reasons why I wanted to become a GP, and what keeps me motivated during the difficult times. You then addressed the crowd, and thanked the hard work and passion of young doctors like me, referring to me by name. So I’m hoping you do remember.
So my question now is this; was this how you planned to thank us? By cutting our pay. By making living standards as a GP trainee almost unbearable and unmanageable? By dissuading our colleagues from other specialties who may have considered a transfer to general practice? And by pre-empting all of this with words of derision about doctors in general, insinuating laziness and lack of vocation?
I am no longer a trainee, but as a newly qualified GP who is entering the profession at the most difficult of times, where staff shortages are at their worst in recent history, and where workload is becoming impossible to tackle, I am concerned for the future of general practice and wondering why anybody else would consider becoming a GP. To make matters worse, we are subjected to a smoke screen of empty promises that you will be increasing our workforce with a recruitment drive, all the while you were planning this scheme to change the contract of doctors in training.
In short, what you have proposed is to cut the pay for unsociable hours, which realistically affects all trainees whether this be in secondary or primary care. You will also put an end to pay progression, so doctors who switch to a career in general practice, like myself, will have to start back at the bottom of the pay ladder. And a final insult is the loss of pay parity between hospital trainees and GP trainees, guaranteeing that we will not be paid the same amount to train in general practice as our counterparts in hospital. Did you really think these measures would encourage more doctors to train in general practice?
Don’t get me wrong, I still have the same passion for looking after people and improving their health and quality of life. But what about my health and quality of life? What about that of my colleagues, friends, and my partner, who unfortunately is still in training? Even if you think that doctors don’t deserve a decent pay packet for the hard work that we do, what about the tens of thousands of debt that most of us acquire in order to train in a profession that serves the public? Not only will you be forcing people out of this specialty, but you will be pushing many junior doctors into poverty whilst they are trying to cover these debt repayments, professional fees and basic living costs.
There seems to be a common misconception that doctors come from privileged backgrounds and are moaning needlessly about these changes. But let me tell you about my background. It was not by anyone’s standards ‘privileged’. During my 8 years at university I worked every weekend and every holiday to pay my way through university. I still came out of my studies with around £50,000 of debt. This meant that most of my wages went towards repaying this debt that I had accrued. There have been times since qualifying when I couldn’t even take a foreign holiday for several years because I couldn’t afford it. My partner and I, both in our 30s, have only just been able to afford a mortgage, not to mention the fact that we wouldn’t have been able to settle down anywhere before because of moving around to where training posts were available.
If these changes had come into play whilst I was training, I would have had to leave the training programme. On behalf of all GP trainees, and my colleagues and friends who are training in other specialties, I implore you to reconsider these cruel and damaging changes to the contracts of doctors in training.
Dr Rebecca Jones
GP Survival Representative for GP Trainees and Newly Qualified GPs