UK doctors in training prepare for strike over wages, burnout

  • Young doctors walk away for 72 hours because of overtime pay
  • Burnout and conditions that push young doctors to quit
  • The UK health service has record backlogs
  • Doctors in training saddled with student debt

LONDON, March 10 (Reuters) – Fed up with a government he says doesn’t care, Poh Wang plans to strike next week along with tens of thousands of other British trainee doctors, saying he is overworked, underpaid and burdened has a student loan he can’t imagine paying off.

The 28-year-old says he and his colleagues have been pushed to their limits after sub-inflation wage increases collide with the rising cost of living, leaving him wondering how he will ever be able to pay off his more than £85,000 ($101,000) in student fees . debt.

In addition, he remains outraged by 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 expressions of support could not pay the bills .

He joins junior doctors across England who are going on a three-day strike on March 13, in protest at wages and burnout, which threaten to force staff out of healthcare as it tackles record high patient waiting lists.

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“We’ve reached a boiling point where we’ve 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 degree.”

The son of Chinese immigrants who ran a takeaway restaurant in Chester, northern England, Wang became a doctor because he enjoyed helping people. After studying medicine for six years, he worked there for five years, two of which were in special training as a doctor in psychiatry.

Junior doctors are qualified doctors, often with several years of experience, who work under the supervision of senior doctors and who represent a large part of the country’s medical community.

He is paid around £40,000 a year for his basic 40 hours a week, and works extra hours that can add up to around 48 hours a week. He rents a room in a shared flat in west London, an option that could cost around £1,000 a month.


Early in the pandemic, Wang worked as an emergency room doctor in south London, where he and his colleagues had to make tough decisions and comfort patients who couldn’t be admitted to intensive care because they were full.

“We did our very best to do everything we could,” he said.

He said the fact that he is currently struggling to make ends meet financially as Britain’s food inflation is at 17% has made him and his colleagues increasingly bitter over recent years.

“We hate the sound of clapping, applause, 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 in terms of the sacrifices we’ve made, pay us properly.”

The BMA says young doctors’ take-home pay has been cut by more than a quarter over the past 15 years, when using its Retail Price Index (RPI) gauge for inflation.

It says its members overwhelmingly voted to strike.

The strikes by junior doctors will put more pressure on the state-funded National Health Service (NHS), which is experiencing waves of strike action from nurses, paramedics and other staff.

Daniel Zahedi, 27, is another junior doctor who plans to go on strike on Monday. He describes his hospital in Cambridge, eastern England, as chronically understaffed and struggling.

“Often there are not enough of us,” said Zahedi.

A first-year doctor after medical school, Zahedi said he gets around £29,000 a year as a base 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 debt is around £100,000.

“It’s not just $100,000 as a student, you have to pay to be a member of your Royal College, you pay to take exams, even to advance in your career,” he said.

Zahedi said that as things stand, he doesn’t see himself staying in the profession long term, despite his love of the job.

“People are burning left, right and center — where wages are being eroded year after year, where conditions are deteriorating, where patient care is being compromised,” he said.

“They feel undervalued and people leave.”

In January, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak outlined the need to reduce waiting times in hospitals as one of his government’s five priorities.

The government is battling strikes across multiple sectors, including train drivers and teachers, and has said wage moderation in the public sector is needed to bring double-digit inflation under control.

($1 = 0.8389 pounds)

Written by Farouq Suleiman; Edited by Kate Holton and Janet Lawrence

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Principles of Trust.

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