Despite the huge government 'investments' over the past 10 years in the NHS, many hospitals remain short of doctors - at both the Consultant level (i.e. those who have complete the many years of medical school and postgraduate training) and at the level of Junior Doctors: the people who are to be found on the wards on a daily basis. Why is this? The number of medical graduates has approximately doubled in this time, yet the number of unemployed doctors in the UK has also grown; the actual number, however, is not known, "due to the majority of [them] being too proud to sign on at the unemployment office. Add to this, there is also an unrecorded number of international doctors who have taken the PLAB at great personal expense, but with little opportunity of finding training posts." *
Why? Part of the reason has been a governmental restructuring of training: a farce that has been unfolding this calendar year with the introduction of MMC: Modernising Medical Careers. Whilst the intentions behind this may be good - a swifter evolution through the training schemes, meaning that the overall time required to become a hospital doctor is shortened from 14 years to 11 years, and a more structured program - the implementation has been disasterous and poorly thought out, with no pilot schemes prior to the entire NHS switching over. Combined with the European Working Time Directive (meaning that junior doctors may only work limited hours per week), many believe that the medical training in the UK has gone down the pan, and what in recent years was an influx of doctors may now turn to mass emigration, at least for those who are able. Unfortunately, many immigrant doctors are now bound to this country by family concerns, a disasterous situation about which they got no forewarning (and which, sadly, lead to one doctor committing suicide whilst the judgement for a High Court appeal against government policy was pending; the appeal failed). Compounding all this has been a cut in pay this year, in real terms, with doctors' salaries increasing by only 1 or 2%, less than the rate of inflation. Is this how much the NHS is valued?
This coming weekend, March 17th, there will be demonstrations in London and Glasgow organised by Remedy UK, a broad coalition of junior doctors and consultants (for they are the ones the government expects to implement MMC - and thus have the increased workload). Originally expecting barely a thousand people at one demonstration, the organisers are now hoping for more than double that: there will be a marching band, white-coated doctors and the many friends, relatives and supporters. You, too, are invited!
* http://www.unemployeddoctor.co.uk/ Note: the PLAB is the UK examination for overseas medical graduates, required to demonstrate basic knowledge in medicine and communication skills.