Belfast Telegraph

Executive must protect our doctors

By Mohammed Samaana

Junior doctors and medical students are protesting against the Government's decision to impose new contracts on them next year. So far, the changes will affect doctors in England, as the devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales have promised not to introduce any changes. The Northern Ireland Executive, however, hasn't made a decision.

The suggested changes are dangerous, unfair and should be opposed. The Government wants to extend the normal working week to include Saturdays and up to 10pm every night except Sunday, which could endanger lives. The Government also wants to cut GP trainees' and psychiatry registrars' pay.

I have worked in the health service as a staff nurse for more than 10 years. I would argue that junior doctors' current working conditions are not fair.

They have to stay late if there is an emergency, or if they did not have enough time to finish their workload, without pay and without getting time off in lieu. Moreover, it is not unusual for on-call doctors to go without food or drink for long periods.

Cutting GP trainees' pay is a mad idea. The GP shortage is already a problem. This will discourage junior doctors from considering becoming a GP and might even encourage them to emigrate, which will complicate current shortages further.

Junior doctors, however, are not the only health service professionals under attack. While the 1% pay rise the Government gave nurses for 2014/2015 (after a pay-freeze of two years) was effectively a pay cut, as the inflation rate during that period was 2%, nurses in Northern Ireland did not get any pay rise, while health service chiefs got 6.1% and MLAs 11%.

The other UK regions also announced they would give nurses and allied health professionals a 1% pay rise in 2015/2016.

The general feeling among Northern Ireland nurses, who continue to have their wages frozen, is that a low-risk job with Asda or Tesco would be better than their stressful, risky and poorly-paid jobs.

The Northern Ireland Executive should reject the proposed changes to the junior doctors' contracts and give nurses their pay rise retrospectively.

  • Mohammed Samaana is a staff nurse based in Belfast

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