The NHS is at “breaking point” and patients are no longer safe, a junior doctor has said ahead of upcoming strikes.
Junior doctors are set to strike next month after members of the British Medical Association (BMA) voted overwhelmingly in favour of taking industrial action in a row over pay on Monday.
A 25-year-old working in her first foundation year in Essex, who did not wish to be named, said the move comes as NHS workers reach “burnout” due to understaffed wards.
“The whole system is at breaking point and I don’t think patients are safe anymore,” she told the PA news agency.
“We’re seeing a lot of situations where we’re so understaffed that we actually feel like we’re putting multiple people in danger.
“I did six years of medical school and my goal from the beginning was to help my patients and see them get better.
“What started our passion is to help people and now it’s very common to see patients wait for like 18 hours or overnight to get help.”
After starting work as a doctor in August, she said the workload has been “relentless” and worse than even her older colleagues have experienced.
“The workload is more than anyone’s ever seen,” she said.
“The older generation, like the consultants, usually in the past would have been like ‘Oh, well before we had unions and working laws and things like that – we were doing 100-hour weeks and that was just normal… we’d just get on with it’.
“(But) even they are saying now that this is the worst that they’ve ever seen and I think that is saying something.
“We see our colleagues not being able to cope on shift… I see people cry on shift as well, and there’s no time to cry.
“We’re doing our best and we’re working 150%, we’re giving everything we’ve got (but it) is leading to a lot of burnout.”
Almost 37,000 votes were cast among BMA members on Monday and 98% of those were in favour of strike action – the largest ever turnout for a ballot of doctors by the BMA and a record number of junior doctors voting for strike action.
The 25-year-old said the overwhelming vote is a sign of the “desperation” staff are feeling.
“It’s definitely a sign of desperation and it’s definitely a sign that this is felt throughout the system,” she said.
“It doesn’t just depend on what hospital you’re at or what trust you work for – it really shows that no matter where you are, it’s an issue everywhere.”
After the strike announcement, BMA junior doctors committee co-chairs Dr Robert Laurenson and Dr Vivek Trivedi said junior doctors have had a real-terms pay cut of more than 26% since 2008 – and were offered an “insulting” 2% pay rise in the current year.
“It’s pay erosion… we are earning very little compared to what we were in 2008, because of the cost of living going up,” said the anonymous 25-year-old from Essex.
“I’m seeing a lot of junior doctors really, really struggle to pay the bills, and even afford their commute to work sometimes.
“We’re working so many hours, and often very anti-social hours and doing so much work… in that time, we’re often plugging the gaps for not just one person (but) two or three people at a time.
“So we’re not asking for a pay rise, we’re just asking for the pay to match inflation.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “We’re building a sustainable NHS with patients at its centre – backed by up to £14.1 billion for health and social care over the next two years, on top of record funding.
“There are record numbers of staff working in the NHS including over 4,800 more doctors compared to last year.
“We know there is more to do and we will publish a long-term workforce plan in spring focused on recruiting and retaining more staff.
“We’re also supporting junior doctors with access to 40 nationwide mental health and wellbeing hubs, which help frontline staff access rapid assessments and support.
“We hugely value the work of junior doctors and it is deeply disappointing some union members have voted for strike action.
“As part of a multi-year deal we agreed with the BMA, junior doctors pay has increased by a cumulative 8.2% since 2019/20. We also introduced a higher pay band for the most experienced staff and increased rates for night shifts.”