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Tuesday, July 6, 1999 Published at 13:53 GMT 14:53 UK


The juniors debate up close

Medical students are angry at long hours

Dr Andrew Hobart, chairman of the British Medical Association's junior doctors committee, was almost in tears as he concluded his speech seeking support for a ballot on industrial action.

He wanted the backing of all doctors at the BMA's Annual Representative Meeting in Belfast for a course of action many say they wish they did not have to take.

However, there was little dissent and most doctors say juniors have put up with enough of long hours and low pay - the time for action is now, they say.

BBC News Online offers a round-up of some of the views put forward at the meeting.

Ms Fiona Kew, BMA junior doctors committee

Ms Kew chaired the junior doctors' conference that first voted to take industrial action last month.

"This was not decision that was taken lightly - it goes against the grain of our profession," she said.

[ image: Mr Andrew Hobart was almost in tears]
Mr Andrew Hobart was almost in tears
"At four in the morning, a junior doctor earns as little as £4.02 - less than the nurse, less than the porter and less than the cleaner.

"It is insulting that we could earn more serving up a whopper burger on a Saturday lunchtime instead of serving up life-saving care on a ward."

She also repeated calls to get Health Secretary Frank Dobson to spend millennium eve in a hospital.

"I challenge Frank Dobson not to go partying at the Millennium Dome but to work alongside me in a busy London casualty department on millennium night," she said.

Dr Trevor Pickersgill, BMA junior doctors committee

Dr Pickersgill said that without proper rest, doctors would become dangerous.

He said a sleep deprived junior doctor had the same level of alertness as someone who had drunk two pints of beer.

"Mr Dobson," he said, "would you let your children be anaesthetised by unsupervised drunks? I think not."

Dr Peter Hawker, chairman of the BMA's central consultants and specialists committee

[ image: Dr Peter Hawker said the situation was an
Dr Peter Hawker said the situation was an "absolute disgrace"
Dr Hawker recalled how 20 years ago he had been in Dr Hobart's position.

He said he had been negotiating with a government that appeared friendly but had in fact been engaging in "perfidious" manouveres to undermine juniors' position.

"It's an absolute disgrace that this debate has to be taking place in 1999," he said.

"We hereby give total public support to the juniors and their cause."

He said that the government should not expect consultants to take over juniors' work if industrial action took place, simply because they were already overstretched.

"Mr Dobson, your department's attitude is such that even if we could, we would not."

Dr John Chisholm, chairman of the BMA's GPs committee

Dr Chisholm added GPs' support for the juniors' stance.

He said the public supported doctors because they had been patients or had visited friends in hospital and expected the best possible standard of care.

"Mr Dobson, the public is on our side. They and we want safer hours and fair rewards for junior doctors," he said.

"Juniors are feeling demoralised and disaffected - they feel let down."

Dr Ian Bogle, BMA chairman

Dr Bogle said he had attended the debates and meetings leading up to the decision to ballot on industrial action.

He said the seriousness of the juniors' approach had particularly struck him.

"Industrial action is indeed a serious issue - they do it with a heavy heart - but this is a health and safety issue."

Dr Sarah Taylor, BMA's committee for public health medicine and community health

Dr Taylor offered her committee's support for a ballot and said juniors' working conditions were putting patients' lives at risk.

"I don't believe that asking junior doctors to work through the night, to work beyond their capacity to perform well, is protecting patients."

Dr Nick Moony, BMA consultants committee

Dr Moony was the only dissenting voice in the debate, although he said he had sympathy for the juniors.

However, "the question of industrial action is unpalatable," he said.

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

And he said that any industrial action would put patient safety at risk.

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