Over the last few years and especially during the COVID pandemic, doctors and nurses have received massive public recognition all over the world. Many have died in order to protect patients, and many had to deal with a continuous flow of incoming sick people, facing great losses for more than two years. In Europe there have been complaints because of the unhealthy working conditions and the lack of staff in hospitals.
Between 2010 and 2020, according to the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development), there was an increase in the annual gross salaries in real terms for doctors, in most European countries. However, in England, there was a decrease in real terms of 1.2 % for specialists and 0.8% for general practitioners. This radical change in salary was part of a total reduction in funds provided to the NHS (National Health System) of 5.5% over the first five years of the new Tory government at the start of the decade.
As a consequence of this pay dispute, a massive strike was called by the BMA (British Medical Association) for the NHS Junior Doctors, who are still asking for full pay restoration. They claim that since 2008 there has been a cut in their wages of more than 25% in real terms. Junior doctor’s claim that as inflation went up, their salary did not follow, leaving them earning just £14.09 an hour, an amount that is said to be comparable to a ‘Pret a Manger’ barista’s wage.
The strike was organized between the 13th and the 15th of March when junior doctors walked out over the whole 3 days. This led to catastrophic results: 196,225 appointments were rescheduled, and 175,122 acute appointments were cancelled. An additional wave of strikes followed on the 11th of April and now the statistics show that the additional mortality rates have trebled compared to the average. However, it’s important to point out that, consequently to lockdown, these statistics were already high even prior to the walkout. The excessive mortality rate reached 833% before the strikes, and now it amounts to 2,247%.
Currently, the main problem that affects the UK health system is the lack of personnel. Since wages are this low and the government refuses to give the unions what they are asking for (a 35% increase in salary), it’s very hard to recruit junior doctors in hospitals. The job includes caring for sick patients, requesting and checking tests, and writing discharge letters. They often work 12-hour shifts, which include unpaid overtime, during which they have no time to eat or rest and, in some cases, even go to the bathroom.
Junior doctors are doctors who have graduated but have not fulfilled the whole preparation of a fully trained consultant. However, a junior doctor could stay so for a period from 7 to 10 years, which is the reason why the UK is today facing high rates of emigration of English graduated doctors.
Since the Brexit referendum in 2016, more than 4,000 specialists have decided to leave the country and the UK’s NHS. Today’s statistics show that the unfilled positions in the health care sector amount to 10,582. Additionally, according to the Nuffield Trust, a further 58,000 nurses are required for a well-organized health system to function effectively. These unfilled positions are mainly concentrated in crucial sectors such as anesthesiology, cardiology and even pediatrics. Consequently, many operations have not been performed in these past years, due to the absence of experts.
COVID had an important impact on the NHS, increasing waiting times for medical help and decreasing the number of available beds in hospitals. Around 54,000 patients have claimed to have waited more than 12 hours before receiving any type of assistance and waiting lists for surgical operations have reached record highs. The junior doctor’s strikes clearly demonstrate the unhappiness of the whole medical sector and the unavoidable need for the British government to invest in this once great national institution.