HR Management Dimensions

Dispute on the Pay and Conditions of Junior Doctors

{Editor’s Note 05/09/2019 – this article was originally published on 7th January 2017 on our Facebook company page. Several broken links referring to this article were discovered. Those have been rectified by publishing the article here as well for ease of reference by our readers.}

Industrial action for later this month has been announced to secure an improved offer on their pay and terms. It seems to centre around the length of working hours and premium payments for being on call in the evenings/nights and at weekends. Do the negotiators for the doctors have long term memories so that they avoid a repeat of the errors when they agreed the Units of Medical Time contract many years ago.. That led to a perceived unfair outcome for many junior doctors.

The contract was based upon how many units of time a doctor was required to work including their rostered on call time in the evenings and weekends. An anomaly was produced in some hospitals because of the way in which different specialities were staffed. For example, the ENT team could be quite small, say two doctors, who would therefore be rostered to be on call for a high proportion of their contract. In practice though, they would be called out only a few times each month. In contrast, larger and busier specialities such as general medicine would have more doctors on the team which meant that each doctor would be rostered on call for a lower committment but each doctor was liable to be called out several times each evening and/or night that he/she was on call.

Inequality of Earnings Between Medical Specialities

The way in which the agreement worked meant that the ENT doctors received significantly more pay compared to their general medicine colleagues even though the latter would work longer hours. When taking part in negotiations, you have to consider potential anomalies so that the outcome does not alienate groups of staff. That is not an easy task in national pay negotiations because of the diverse staffing pattern in different hospitals. Even so it is a necessary step to try to ensure that such anomalies are dealt with before an agreement is finalised. If they are not dealt with that can lead to unofficial local deals which makes a deal more expensive and set local precedents that are difficult to contain as time goes by.

Another issue with the current dispute is the length of working hours that a junior doctor has to work or at least be available to be ‘called out’. That raises several issues of gaining experience etc. that we shall comment upon in a subsequent post.

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