Over 200 medical students demonstrated on the steps of University College London Hospital in central London on Monday, against the removal of free accommodation for first year junior doctors.
The protesters carried placards saying ‘No room for more student debt’ and ‘Junior doctors accommodation – going, going, gone’.
Victoria Nowak, BMA medical students representative for University College London, told News Line: ‘We want to raise awareness of the plight of newly qualified doctors whose entitlement to free accommodation has been suddenly removed.
‘This amounts to a 20% pay cut in the context of record levels of student debt.
‘We are concerned that this will deter applicants from lower socio-economic backgrounds from entering medicine.’
Final year medical student at Whittington Hospital, north London, Hoda Hosseini added: ‘I’m here to voice my support for current and future medical students who are increasingly being put under pressure by changes in the medical training programme.
‘We’re all here to voice our anger at the removal of free accommodation and the increasing costs associated with the course.
‘Everyone has to struggle against anything they believe is unjust.’
Dan Swerdlow, third year medical student and clinical president elect for Royal Free Medical School and UCL Medical School for 2008/09, said: ‘I’m here to support the current foundation year one doctors and campaign for medical students coming up for their foundation year.
‘We are concerned that not only are they reducing junior doctors’ salaries, but they are also removing their free accommodation which is a further cut in pay.’
Claire Capshaw from Guildford, a UCL final year medical student, added: ‘I’m very upset.
‘I’m graduating on £40,000 of debt. The starting pay for a doctor is £20,000 a year basic.
‘You are moving to a new city to find work, so you have to find new housing.
‘Having free accommodation in the hospital for the first year when you are all working long hours is really a huge financial help.
‘To take that away essentially means a £5,000 pay cut out of first year wages.
‘We have to fight this with the support of the BMA.’
Third year medical student Alex Ashman stressed: ‘Really it’s about pay.
‘Cutting accommodation means cutting pay.
‘Free accommodation is benefits in kind and is the reason why first year junior doctors haven’t had a pay rise in years.
‘People feel put upon.
‘We had the MTAS fiasco last year and it could still happen again.
‘Not all posts are being filled, while one in three firms (doctors’ teams) are short staffed.
‘It’s a mess.’
Final year medical student Ben Morrison told News Line: ‘The money is one issue for me but what is more important is the devaluation of doctors and the medical profession.
‘It seems that when we start work we are not treated as a valued member of the NHS.
‘It’s not going to be long before only the elite can go to medical school.
‘We’re lucky because we were before top-up fees.
‘We’re on £20,000-£30,000 in debt.
‘But the years coming up can expect to be in even more debt, with even less pay when they qualify.’
Fellow final year student Paul Sturch added: ‘We’re not asking for more.
‘At the moment we are asking for something which we used to have that has been taken away.
‘The loss of free accommodation for first year junior doctors amounts to about £400 a month.
‘In real terms, that is a 20% pay cut.’
Firas El-Janabar, another final year student at UCLH, said: ‘I’m showing my support for this particular cause.
‘I don’t think it is correct to remove the provision of free accommodation which is traditional for junior doctors.
‘It’s effectively taking at least a £5,000 decrease in wages.
‘The government argument is that the effective decrease in wages is a reflection of the new European Working Time Directive.
‘In my opinion, we are going to be pressured into doing the same amount of work but not declare it, as most private sector employees do.
‘We deserve the free accommodation.
‘We work hard for six years to get our degrees and we know we are going to get fairly rubbish pay to start with.
‘We are going to be working even harder as employees and the purpose of the free accommodation is to keep us relatively comfortable and close to the hospital so we can deliver effective patient care.
‘The government is completely undermining any professional dignity we have.
‘The BMA and whoever represents us – and whoever cares about the NHS and the way doctors are treated – should take action.’
Third year student, Hamza said: ‘We just want our free accommodation back, which we rightly deserve.
‘We put a lot of time into training – six years – and at the end of it we have a lot of debt.’
Jo Heritage, UCLH final year medical student, declared: ‘It’s really disappointing that we spend so much time training as doctors and spend a lot of money and accumulate a lot of debt – yet we are having our wages cut before we even start work!
‘We are demonstrating to let the public know what is happening.’
Iranthi Methananda, a third year student, added: ‘It’s appalling that after five years’ medical school, junior doctors start on a ridiculous amount of money – £21,000 – and we are not going to be provided with free accommodation.
‘We are trying to do our best for the community and the health of people.
‘We are not doing it for the money but we have to have enough to live on.’