Have junior doctors really had a 26 per cent pay cut in the last 15 years?

Junior doctors claim their pay is - in effect - up to 26% lower than 2008. Yahoo News UK takes a look at their claim.

London, UK. 14 April 2023. Junior doctors with signs picket outside Saint Thomas hospital, London as the demand a 35 percent increase in pay on the last day of a four day 96 hour strike announced by the (BMA) British Medical .Association Credit: amer ghazzal/Alamy Live News
Junior doctors are striking over years of below inflation pay. (PA)

This week, junior doctors have stripped off their scrubs and taken to the picket line for four days of strikes, described as the most disruptive industrial action in the history of the NHS.

They are angry about what they describe as a rapid fall in pay and living standards for those who not too long ago put their own safety aside to help save lives on the pandemic front line.

But are they right about how much out of pocket they are. We take a look at the figures.

What are junior doctors demanding? Like other striking industries, junior doctors argue that prolonged wage stagnation and high inflation mean they’ve effectively taken a huge pay cut in the past 15 years. The British Medical Association says that - taking the cost of living into account - they are now paid 26% less than in 2008. They are calling for a 35% rise to restore their previous living standards.

Are they right? Yes and no. The Institute for Fiscal Studies, an independent body, agrees junior doctors are paid less than they were a decade ago, but says the drop is around 16%. The two groups have used different methods of calculating inflation to add up the difference.

How does that compare with other jobs in the NHS? Other jobs in the health service have also seen cuts to real wages, but at a slower rate. Ambulance staff have even had a pay increase of 1%. And many paramedics now earn more than junior doctors - without years of student debt to pay off and no ongoing training costs.

OK, so how much do they get per hour? Junior doctors, many of whom have been practising for more than a decade and are in their mid-thirties, are paid between £14 and £30 per hour. Many have been sharing their hourly rates on social media - and making some awkward comparisons with other jobs. Bu comparison, the current National Living Wage is an hourly rate of £10.42.

What has happened to staff in other jobs? According to the IFS, the average public sector wage was 4% lower in real terms than 15 years earlier. Private sector staff are earning only 0.9% less than they were. The contrast between the pay of MPs (in terms of both their basic salary and second jobs) is also a source of frustration for many public sector workers. (Striking examples of which can be found here and here).

No wonder doctors are angry! Exactly - and voters support the strikes too. The latest polling from Ipsos found that 54% supported junior doctors while 26% opposed industrial action.

How will the strikes affect patients? 350,000 appointments, including outpatient appointments and operations, have been cancelled as a result of the walk-out.

What is the government saying? It’s not backing down. Health secretary Steve Barclay has described junior doctors as “militant”, planning for “maximum disruption” to the NHS, and said the BMA’s request for such a significant pay rise was “unreasonable”.

Why are junior doctors talking about moving to Australia? 2.1% of doctors emigrate annually, and many are attracted to Australia because salaries for junior doctors can be many thousands of pounds higher. A survey by the British Medical Association found that one in three junior doctors are planning to work in another country within the next year.

So the government is trying to stop that, right? Wrong. In fact, the UK’s post-Brexit trade deal with Australia makes it easier than ever for highly skilled Brits to start a new life down under. And Australia knows it. Its recent marketing campaign to attract UK residents stated: “We are here to steal your workers by offering them a better life in one of the most beautiful places on the planet.”