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Tuesday, July 6, 1999 Published at 12:00 GMT 13:00 UK


Junior doctors: We will win

Junior doctors say they are overworked and underpaid

Junior doctors have warned the government they will not back down in their fight for better pay and conditions.

Andrew Hobart, BMA junior doctors committee: Whole profession is now behind us
They have received the near unanimous support of other branches of the medical profession.

The Junior Doctors Committee of the British Medical Association (BMA) has already voted to ballot members on industrial action if no agreement is reached by September.

Andrew Hobart, JDC chairman, made it plain during an impassioned speech to the BMA's annual conference in Belfast on Tuesday that junior doctors are in no mood to compromise.

Mr Hobart told the conference that junior doctors were being forced to work in "Victorian working conditions" with low pay, long hours and poor quality catering and accommodation.

He warned the 1,000 representatives that if junior doctors lost their battle with the Government, then consultants, GPs and other parts of the profession would find themselves under threat.

Mr Hobart said: "If we lose this one, we might as well pack up and go home now. But we are not going to lose this one - we are going to win.

"We are going to win because without fair pay, the long hours culture will continue. We are going to win because our patients deserve better than to be treated by tired, disillusioned doctors. We will win because we must win."

Last month junior doctors voted overwhelmingly in favour of being balloted on industrial action if negotiations on pay and conditions do not succeed.

Excessive hours

[ image: Mr Andrew Hobart roundly criticised government policy]
Mr Andrew Hobart roundly criticised government policy
They are furious that the Government has not yet fully implemented the 1991 New Deal on working time which was meant to limit juniors to 56 hours a week.

One in four junior medics are still working more than 56 hours, Mr Hobart told the conference.

He attacked the Government for negotiating an EU deal which imposes no restrictions on hours for the next four years and means the 48-hour week Working Time Directive will not apply to juniors for 13 years.

Juniors are also campaigning against a system which means they work for half their hourly rate on weekends, bank holidays and when on call.

They claim that under current arrangements junior doctor working over the millennium will be paid less than hospital cleaners.

Mr Hobart rounded on Health Secretary Frank Dobson. He said: "Mr Dobson - you may look like Father Christmas, but you forgot one thing - you are meant to give, not take away.

"This Government wants to modernise the NHS but perpetuates Victorian working conditions for the most vulnerable junior doctors.

"We will not tolerate this any more. We have asked. We have begged. We have pleaded and we have got nowhere. Junior doctors have finally had enough.

"I can assure you that our negotiating team will do everything we can to avoid the need for industrial action but if we have to we will do it.

"Be very clear - this is a BMA campaign. If junior doctors are beaten, consultants are next, and GPs after that."

Motion carried

The conference overwhelmingly backed a motion backing the juniors' campaign. Only one delegate spoke against industrial action.

Dr Nick Moony, a member of the JDC, told the conference he sympathised with the juniors' discontent.

But he said: "It would be wrong, unethical to follow any action that increased the suffering of patients for our own self-interest."

However, fellow JDC member Dr Kate Adams, from London, warned that action was vital to protect patients.

She told how she had gone 34 hours without sleep in her first week working in a hospital.

"I was so physically and mentally exhausted I could barely speak. I felt sick," she said.

"Sleep deprivation certainly impairs my judgement."

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: "Ministers are already in constructive discussions with junior doctors' leaders and are interested to make progress in improving their working hours and conditions."

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