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Junior doctors take to Belfast streets in clash over new contract

By Claire McNeilly

Published 19/10/2015

Junior doctors have staged a rally in Belfast to protest against government plans to impose a new contract on them
Junior doctors have staged a rally in Belfast to protest against government plans to impose a new contract on them

Junior doctors have staged a rally in Belfast to protest against government plans to impose a new contract on them.

It came as thousands of medics joined a march in London on Saturday as a row between Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and the British Medical Association (BMA) continued.

Numerous letters exchanged between Mr Hunt and Dr Johann Malawana, head of the junior doctors’ committee at the BMA, have failed to reopen negotiations between the two groups.

Under current plans, the contract will reclassify doctors’ normal working week to include Saturday and late evening work.

Critics have argued the deal could mean pay cuts of up to 30%, with “normal hours” reclassified as being from 7am to 10pm, Monday to Saturday.

Extra payments for unsociable working will be earned only outside of these times, rather than the current arrangements of 7am to 7pm Monday to Friday.

Mr Hunt has indicated he would be willing to look again at how far “normal hours” extend on Saturdays.

Following Saturday’s demonstration in Belfast, Dr Chris Hoo, deputy chair of the Northern Ireland Junior Doctors Committee, said that support for the rally from junior doctors, consultants and the wider community showed the strength of feeling on the issue.

“Patient safety is central to everything a doctor does, and the proposed new contract puts that at risk,” he added.

“We cannot accept a contract that would leave junior doctors worse off in terms of safe working hours and pay, and would make areas of medicine that are already suffering a recruitment and retention problem, such as general practice and emergency medicine, even less attractive.

“A poll that we did of junior doctors showed 96% of those who responded would consider moving to work abroad if the new contract was introduced in Northern Ireland.

“There has been an outpouring of anger over plans to impose a new contact, and there is a real risk that junior doctors will speak with their feet.

“To lose a large number of doctors in the early stages of their careers would be a disaster for the health service in Northern Ireland. Our petition to Minister Simon Hamilton, asking him not to impose the English junior contact in Northern Ireland, got over 2,000 signatures in just two days. This shows how strongly people feel about the issue.”

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