Students from Brighton Sussex Medical School (BSMS), alongside other activist groups, attended a picket outside the Royal Sussex County Hospital on 10 February in part of a nationally coordinated protest against proposed changes to junior doctors’ contracts.    

The contract reforms put forward by the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, include an 11% rise in basic pay, but will also mean junior doctors will no longer be paid extra for working Saturdays. This change in what constitutes “basic hours” will make it less costly for the NHS to run on weekends, claims Hunt. He said: “Three-quarters of doctors will see a take home pay rise and no trainee working within contracted hours will have their pay cut.”

The British Medical Association, a trade union representing just under 70% of junior doctors in England, has estimated that junior doctors could face pay cuts of between 15 and 30% as a result of the changes, and have called them “unsafe” and “unfair”. 

However, the government has promised to protect the pay of doctors for the first three years, saying that only the 1% of doctors who work lots of overtime may suffer. 

Support for the strike has been widespread in Brighton and Hove, with both medical students and local activist groups voicing their support for the striking junior doctors and student nurses, midwives and AHPs.

Tom Coupe, a 4th year Sussex medical student, said: “The ‘smoking gun’ is the removal of the safe guards to stop foundation trusts (our future employers) from recording our hours and removing financial penalties to them overworking us; hence, the unsafe nature of the contract. Tired doctors already make mistakes and overworked juniors crash their cars after days of punishing shifts.”

When asked whether there were any positive elements of Hunt’s contract, Coupe said: “11% increase in base pay, but overall people would be paid less. A 7-day NHS would be great, but only with the funding to pay for it. You need to hire more doctors and nurses and support workers and that is an expensive reality.”

Another 4th year Sussex medical student, Freddie Dexter, said: “Jeremy Hunt’s proposal is entirely regressive.

“Worker morale in the NHS is already at an all-time low. Every junior doctor is working full time, yet A/E departments are struggling to remain afloat, and bed blocking via shortfalls in social care are putting sustained pressure on hospital beds. Jeremy Hunt and the Conservatives are failing to deal with the true issues at hand. We need to hire more doctors, and increase funding to core services across the board.”

Liam, a first year student at the demonstration, said: “As students, it’s vital that we show our solidarity to both our fellow medical students, and to any strike that deals with the decimation of our public services. Students have historically been early to fight when it comes to standing up for basic working rights and this week should be no different.”

Fletcher Christian, a spokesman for the Facebook group ‘Brighton & Hove Supports Junior Doctors and NHS Nurses said: “Our group was set up by members of the public who place their lives in the hands of junior doctors during key moments in their lives – for example childbirth, critical illness and chronic diseases. We want the people that treat us to be mentally aware enough to deliver the high standard of care needed at those times.”

Groups in attendance at the picket included Brighton Solidarity Federation, an anarcho-syndicalist group with a big presence on Sussex’s campus; the Peoples’ Assembly; Brighton & Hove Labour Party.

Emily Cross

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