- Junior doctors walk out for 72 hours over pay
- Burnout and conditions that cause junior doctors to quit
- Britain’s health service has record backlogs
- Younger doctors saddled with student debt
LONDON, March 10 (Reuters) – Fed up with a government he says doesn’t care, Poh Wang plans to go on strike with tens of thousands of other British junior doctors next week, saying he is overworked, underpaid and burdened with a student loans he can’t imagine paying off.
The 28-year-old says he and his colleagues have been pushed to the brink after below-inflation pay rises collided with the rising cost of living to make him question how he will ever pay his more than 85,000 pounds ($101,000) students of. debt.
On top of that, he remains upset about his treatment during the pandemic, as he felt powerless to cope with the onslaught of patients arriving at the hospital with COVID-19 symptoms — and said public displays of support weren’t paying the bills.
He joins junior doctors across England who will strike on March 13 for three days, protesting over pay and burnout that risks driving staff out of the health service as it tackles record patient waiting lists.
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“We have reached a boiling point where we have had enough,” said Wang – a council member of the British Medical Association (BMA), which represents doctors and medical students.
“The anger is palpable that we have been used and abused and devalued to this extent.”
The son of Chinese immigrants who ran a takeaway restaurant in Chester, northern England, Wang became a doctor because he enjoyed helping people. After attending medical school for six years, he has worked for five, two in special training as a psychiatrist.
Younger doctors are qualified doctors, often with several years of experience, who work under the guidance of senior doctors and represent a large part of the country’s medical community.
He is paid around £40,000 a year for his base 40 hours a week and he works extra hours which can add up to around 48 hours a week. He rents a room in a shared flat in west London, an option that can cost around £1,000 a month.
‘ABOVE AND BEYOND’
Early in the pandemic, Wang worked as an emergency doctor in south London, where he and his colleagues had to make difficult decisions and comfort patients who could not be admitted to intensive care units because they were full.
“We went above and beyond to do everything we could,” he said.
He said the fact he is struggling to make ends meet now that food inflation is hitting 17% in the UK has left him and his colleagues increasingly bitter over the past few years.
“We hate the sound of clapping, clapping, because it’s empty,” Wang said, referring to Britain’s Clap for Our Carers campaign for health workers during the height of the pandemic.
“If you value us and what we’ve been through and the sacrifices we’ve made, then pay us properly.”
The BMA says junior doctors’ take-home pay has been cut by more than a quarter over the past 15 years, when using the retail price index (RPI) gauge for inflation.
It says its members voted overwhelmingly to strike.
Absenteeism by junior doctors will put more pressure on the state-funded National Health Service (NHS), which is experiencing waves of strike action by nurses, ambulance workers and other staff.
Daniel Zahedi, 27, is another junior doctor who plans to strike on Monday. He describes his hospital in Cambridge, eastern England, as chronically understaffed and struggling.
“A lot of the time there aren’t enough of us,” Zahedi said.
As a first-year doctor after his medical degree, Zahedi said he gets about £29,000 a year as a basic salary for a minimum of 40 hours a week. He said he worked about 60 hours this week, which was slightly above average but “not unusual”. His student loan debt is around £100,000.
“It’s not just 100,000 as a student you pay to be a member of your Royal College, you pay to do exams, to even progress in your career,” he said.
Zahedi said as things stand, he doesn’t see himself staying in the profession long term, despite his love for the job.
“People are burning out left, right and center — where wages are just being eroded year after year, where conditions are getting worse, where patient care is taking a toll,” he said.
“They feel undervalued and people leave.”
In January, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak outlined the need to cut hospital waiting times as one of his government’s five priorities.
Battling strikes across several sectors, including train drivers and teachers, the government has said public sector pay restraint is necessary to bring double-digit inflation under control.
($1 = 0.8389 pounds)
Author of Farouq Suleiman; Editing by Kate Holton and Janet Lawrence
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