Angry delegates at the British Medical Association (BMA) Junior Doctors Conference in central London on Saturday voted for action to restore free accommodation for junior doctors in their first year after graduation, or get them adequate compensation.
Emergency motions taken in the afternoon condemned the government-backed move as a 20 per cent pay cut to doctors faced with paying off as much as £60,000 student debt.
Delegates voted unanimously for motion 108 from the Junior Doctors Committee (JDC) Executive Subcommittee.
It states: ‘This conference is appalled that the Doctors’ and Dentists’ Review Body (DDRB) have failed to recommend a pay uplift to compensate Foundation Year 1 doctors for the unilateral removal of free accommodation.’
The motion suggests ‘a pay rise of £4,800 would be adequate compensation for the loss of accommodation’.
It says that conference ‘would, in light of failure to negotiate a satisfactory agreement, support the relevant Branches of Practice to take whatever action they may deem necessary to publicise, protest and resolve the situation’.
It ‘calls on the BMA to support financially any such action’.
Mover Ian Noble, Medical Students Committee, said: ‘medical students are furious over the removal of free accommodation.
‘This motion calls on the JDC to go back into negotiations and have free accommodation put back or increase pay by £4,800 in compensation.
‘Student debt for some is £60,000.’
Speaking in favour, Michelle Tang, Wales, told conference: ‘It’s not just about a pay cut, but the psychological and social impact.
‘You need somewhere to go to release the stress.
‘Whatever we can do to stop this, we should take some action.’
Chair of the BMA Council Hamish Meldrum recommended a unanimous vote.
BMA Treasurer David Pickersgill pledged: ‘We will give you every support to win this battle.’
Conference also voted for a rider to the motion from Tim Crocker-Buque, Medical Students Committee.
This noted that ‘7,000 final-year students due to start their jobs in August 2008’ are ‘now faced with unexpected financial burdens’ and called on the JDC to ‘recognise the urgency of the situation and act as quickly as possible’.
Crocker-Buque stressed that the 7,000 final-year students ‘have been landed with an unexpected £5,000 bill that they have to pay in three months time’.
Motion 108 was followed by Motion 111 which ‘notes it is now Medical Students Conference policy to support a sleep-in tent protest over this and calls upon all doctors to support such a protest’.
Motion 112 from the JDC executive subcommittee was passed unanimously. It deplored ‘the derisory pay award of 2.2 per cent from the DDRB’ and calls to ‘explore the options available to the membership to protest’.
Mover JDC vice chairman Eleanor Draeger said: ‘The 2.2 per cent is derisory, effectively a pay cut’.
Conference overwhelmingly passed Motion 113 from Northern Region JDC.
It states: ‘That this conference is disgusted at the below-inflation pay award offered by the DDRB and urges the BMA to exhaust all means available to a trade union up to and including industrial action in order to seek financial recompense for FY1s (PRHOs) who have lost their right to free first year accommodation which is equivalent to a pay cut of some 20 per cent.’
(PRHOs = pre-registration house officers – News Line).
BMA Treasurer Pickersgill intervened to point out: ‘There is concern about taking industrial action.
‘Unless we are on solid legal ground, the whole funds of the union could face sequestration.’
Conference chair Remy Convey then unsuccessfully attempted to get mover Ben Carrick to accept a reference back.
The motion was passed overwhelmingly on a show of hands with about 10 voting against, and a few more than that abstaining out of 180 delegates.
Earlier, conference voted unanimously for Motion 59 from South Thames region JDC, which states:
‘That this conference notes that there are plans to close maternity services at Lewisham hospital and calls on the government to ensure that this does not happen.’
Mover JDC vice chairman Draeger said: ‘Plans to close maternity services in Lewisham and move them to Woolwich will mean patients will get worse care.
‘The two hospitals they are not planning to close are PFI hospitals, the two they plan to close are not.
‘We should be worrying about patient care not money.’
In the morning, delegates had voted to call for increased funding to increase consultant numbers, for an independent training authority and to ring fence training budgets.
Delegates voted with just one abstention for Motion 25 to express continued concern ‘with the role of nurse consultants and other similar non-medically qualified practitioners’.
Speakers said they opposed ‘nurse practitioners and nurse surgeons’ dubbing them ‘doctoring on the cheap’ with Paul Malone, North West region JDC member, stressing that ‘this affects our training and needs to a big review of the way it is being used at the moment’.
Conference also voted unanimously for Motion 31 which called for out-of-hours experience in training to be protected and called in the BMA JDC to ‘publicly challenge the idea that trainees should be replaced on rotas by notionally cheaper non-medical professionals’.
To its honour, conference went on to vote almost unanimously, with just one against, for Motion 39 calling for the BMA to lobby for the relief of Palestinians in Gaza.
The motion states: ‘That this conference notes with extreme concern recent reports by UN agencies and the International Committee of the Red Cross that there is a severe shortage in Gaza of essential medical supplies, fuel for hospital generators and basic medicines including first-line paediatric antibiotics, due to the closing of border crossings by Israel.
‘This conference joins those agencies in their call for the crossings to remain open to allow these supplies into Gaza, and calls on the BMA Chair of Council and the BMA’s international committee to lobby all relevant UK government departments and the EU to take action to end this humanitarian crisis.’
Mover Ahmed Sewehli, Representative Body, said: ‘Gaza has been closed off to the world since 18th January.
‘Medical supplies are in zero availability. The paediatric hospital is without power. The UN representative described the main Gaza hospital as “grim and miserable”.
‘We are doctors, our duty is to patients. Please help our colleague doctors in Gaza.’
Dr Omer Moghraby added: ‘Support our colleagues and help get the crossings back open.’
Chair of BMA Council Meldrum said: ‘I’m happy to support this motion.
‘I don’t always get involved in political disputes but I’m happy to get involved in this humanitarian issue.’
Sewehli told News Line in the lunch break: ‘As doctors it is part of our duty to try our best to help the thousands of patients in Gaza who do not have access to adequate medication.’
He added: ‘I’m happy that motion was passed with just one vote against out of nearly 200 people.
‘I’m very happy that the chairman of council of the BMA indicated that he will do his best to push this forward.’
After lunch, back on domestic matters, delegates voted for motions 115, opposing the introduction of a new sub-consultant grade, and 116, condemning the growth of rota gaps.
Speaking for Motion 116, Andrew Thornley, Northern region JDC member, said: ‘The government is to blame for rota gaps, first there was the MTAS training mess and then the rule change for highly skilled immigrant workers.’
Successful Motion 51 stating that ‘any push towards a sub-consultant grade should be resisted’ was moved by Joe Butchart of Wessex region JDC.
He rejected claims that there are too many consultants as ‘nonsense’ saying ‘we are in an under-doctored country’.
He added: ‘The government is looking for a cheap way forward and service drones willing to serve their master.’