Yesterday I spoke in the House of Commons debate on junior doctors. I have published my speech below:
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys.
I welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander), the shadow Secretary of State for Health, to her new position.
I have three puncture marks on my left hand. They come from 2001 when I was admitted to accident and emergency suffering a life-threatening event, an ectopic pregnancy. It took four attempts before a junior doctor successfully inserted a line into my hand. He apologised to me and said, “I’m sorry, I’ve just worked for 24 hours without a break and I just can’t see straight.” I am grateful to that doctor, both for his compassion and for his honesty, and I will always be grateful to the junior doctor who wheeled me up to theatre at midnight and operated on me, saving my life.
Such overwork is what led the Labour Government to change the junior doctors contract. Under that contract, employers face financial penalties if junior doctors work longer than contracted. This Government want to remove these vital safeguards in the new contract and, instead, ask employers to follow the working time regulations. But in medicine, mistakes cost lives. The safeguards need to be much stronger than generic working time regulations, especially as junior doctors work a number of extra hours over and above what they are contracted to work, as we have already heard.
I have further concerns about the proposed changes. Currently, Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust, which manages Pinderfields, Wakefield’s local hospital, carries vacancies in all specialties, like most other large trusts. Vacancies are particularly hard to fill in A&E, obstetrics, paediatrics and medicine.
Junior doctors provide all types of patient care—emergency care to mothers in labour, care for new born babies, specialist elderly medicine, cancer care and surgery. We have heard that almost 3,500 doctors applied for paperwork to leave the UK and work abroad in the first 10 days after the Government announced their threat to impose the new contract.
I have concerns that the contract will discourage junior doctors from gaining clinical experience and contributing to medical research. Currently, pay progression is an annual increment, irrespective of their stage of training. NHS employers want to change that. That will impact on doctors who work part time or who are taking maternity leave, because they will not get an annual increment at their stage of training, so will not get pay progression.
The Prime Minister said this morning that he was a feminist, but women junior doctors know that his warm words hide the cold reality of direct discrimination. Will the Minister tell us whether an equality impact assessment has been done on the proposals?
Finally, we have discussed the weekend effect, but Fiona Godlee, the editor of the British Medical Journal, has written to the Secretary of State criticising him for misrepresenting the research. He must think again and both sides must negotiate.