‘THIS IS ABOUT THE FUTURE OF THE NHS’ – Junior doctors demand that Donaldson resigns

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Dr DAVID NICHOLL, Chair of the Specialist Training Committee for the West Midlands at Thursday’s vigil at Portcullis House, Westminster
Dr DAVID NICHOLL, Chair of the Specialist Training Committee for the West Midlands at Thursday’s vigil at Portcullis House, Westminster

ANGRY Junior Doctors and their supporters held a vigil on Thursday outside a meeting of the House of Commons health committee which is holding an inquiry into the Modernisation Medical Careers (MMC) programme.

MPs on the committee were taking evidence from the government’s Chief Medical Officer, Liam Donaldson, a major architect of the disastrous and much criticised MMC.

News Line spoke to a number of protesters opposed to the post-graduate training system changes.

Richard Marks, from Remedy UK which organised Thursday’s vigil, said that new training proposals ‘were not going to work’.

‘It is time for us doctors to reclaim our profession. This is our last chance.

‘When Sir John Tooke undertook an independent inquiry into our training under Hewitt, he had the balls to say it is a mess and needs to be changed.

‘The main thing is to have the Tooke review adopted.

‘Donaldson was the architect of the biggest medical disaster of all time and should take responsibility for that.’

This view was echoed by Dr David Nicholl, Chair of the Specialist Training Committee for the West Midlands, the biggest region outside London for training neurologists.

‘If the guy (Donaldson) cannot add up the figures then he should go. He basically misled Parliament.

‘We have 25 medical students training with us, with more coming through, but next year they’ll have no jobs for them to go into.

‘I spoke to a trainee yesterday who asked me for advice. Because of the changes, all I could tell her was to seek a military career or emigrate to the United States to get registered.’

Jenny Goldblatt, a second year junior doctor (Senior House Officer under the old scheme), told News Line: ‘This system firstly reduces our chances of choosing the right speciality best suited to our experience.

‘The new system forces us to choose a speciality before we gain enough experience.

‘Under the old system we would gain enough experience first to enable us to choose the best speciality suited to that experience.

‘Now I don’t know if I will get into the speciality I want; but I do know that if things remain the same I’ll have to leave London or even leave the country if I want to go into medicine.

‘Secondly, it has been pushed through too quickly. In 10 years-time patients will suffer because doctors do not have enough experience.

‘Thirdly, junior doctors are being forced to take posts that are not connected to their speciality.

‘In particular, shortening our training is dumbing down the medical profession.

‘I am concerned that this new system will reduce the level of expertise and we will loose the goodwill of professional doctors.

‘The NHS runs on staff who put in that bit extra.

‘I am extremely unhappy with these changes; we don’t feel we are being listened to by the government.

‘We spend 10 to 15 years training so we can make life and death decisions for patients, and yet we are being denied the chance to make those decisions for our own lives and those of our families.’

Junior doctors Chandni Patel and Krishna Patel from St Thomas’ in south London said: ‘Lots of our friends haven’t been able to get jobs and have even emigrated.

‘Some have even left the profession altogether and sought new careers.

‘That is what we are facing in two years time, so that is why we joined the vigil.’

Richard Lee, Remedy UK rep at St Thomas’ said: ‘Even though it very difficult for us to leave our work to protest against these changes, I feel it is important to be here and let the government know how concerned we are.

‘The government should think more carefully before implementing changes, and not assume the old system was wrong.

‘The whole MMC process has to be addressed. They should seek the opinion of Junior Doctors before changes are made.

‘Because of these changes many of my colleagues have gone abroad.

‘Even with the European Working Time directive on the hours we should work, nobody has to be out of a job because of it.

‘Improved education and training has to be the goal along with quality patient care.’

Parent Diana Clarke, from Reading, said: ‘My daughter is in her 2nd year at Salisbury District Hospital, training to be a general medical doctor.

‘She has a 1 in 3 chance of a training post; next year is going to be even worse than in the last year.

‘It is that difficult and I feel very worried: not just for her – but also for the future of the NHS.

‘It is a waste of dedicated doctors who work tremendously hard and are basically being put on the scrapheap.’

‘Medicine is not just a job: it’s a vocation’, said another furious and worried parent, Lindsay Cooke, from Mums4Medics which formed in March 2007 to support families of doctors affected by the MMC/Modernising Medical Careers (MTAS) crisis.

Cooke is the mother of a surgical SHO who used to work in a Foundation hospital in SE England until the MMC changes forced her to move to New Zealand last October.

Her daughter resigned from the BMA following the professional body’s acquiescence to the government-imposed MMC.

Lindsay told News Line: ‘It must be stressed that doctors begin to make a commitment from early in their lives: right from gaining their GCSEs onwards.

‘Then it is very, very tough training over many years, at the end of which you are left with £20 to £30,000 of debt from student loans.

‘The SHOs are the workhorses of the NHS, and it is SHOs who are most effected.

‘We are losing some of the most experienced and dedicated staff. It is quite frankly a joke.

‘This is not just about junior doctors’ jobs: it is about patient care and the future of the NHS.’

Lindsay added that the government was forcing ‘an untested, unpiloted scheme on the medical profession.

‘And in the process it has torn up a system of medical education that evolved over 400 years and was the envy of the world.

‘It has traumatised a generation of junior doctors.’ 

On her ‘Mums4Medics’ website Lindsay and other parents are demanding:

• The MTAS application and interview system to be scrapped;

• A return to the ‘old’ tried and tested application and interview system for August 2007 appointments, and

• An independent review of both MTAS and of Modernising Medical Careers (MMC), of which MTAS was a crucial part.

As part of such a review urgent consideration should be given to:

• Increasing the number of training places available in August 2007 so that good doctors were not disadvantaged, the future of the NHS was not compromised, and the implications of the European Working Time directive could be properly assessed;

• A safe and sensible transitional process into any new training system, so that its impact on doctors, other health professionals, patient care and safety and the future needs of the NHS could be properly and independently assessed.