letters

The message in your news picture was right (pages 2-3, 12 August) - junior doctors are being pushed towards industrial action for the first time in a generation. But I feel this message needs further development.

Junior doctors were promised a 72-hour on-call week by 1996. But even now, when the rest of the workforce has been promised a 48-hour week under the European working time directive, at least 30 per cent of doctors still do not have it. And still the government saw fit to ask the European Commission to exclude us from the directive for 13 years and increase the 56-hour 'on your feet' time to 65 hours. Most juniors receive half pay for on-call, and a house officer, with an average student debt of£8,000, works on-call for£4.20 an hour. Do we feel valued?

Junior doctors are at the sharp end of the massive increases in workload and intensity in the NHS. On-call for us means work - and a lot of it. This has direct effects on patient care and the health and well-being of medical staff. We feel that fair rates for out-of-hours pay would produce the financial driver to train more doctors and reduce average hours that is so necessary in this country. This has been proven in Australia and New Zealand. It is no coincidence that UK-trained doctors are flocking to the Antipodes.

We have tried years of sensible, rational arguments and evidence to try and convince successive governments of the madness of perpetuating our working conditions, but to no avail. We have been painted into a corner where industrial action seems to be the only method to make the establishment sit up and listen.

As for the type of action we will take, the British Medical Association's junior doctors committee has already confirmed that we will not withdraw emergency cover from hospitals. But your readers will know the massive implications for the NHS if we were forced into the position of providing only emergency cover.

Readers who manage trusts should pay attention to this stark reality - if the government does not take the anger of juniors seriously and make a sensible offer, there will be a ballot for industrial action in September, and industrial action itself in October. Trusts should already be considering contingency plans to allow for emergency cover only moving towards this winter.

Juniors certainly do not want to have to strike. We are a traditionally non-militant group with extremely high professional values and standards. It is time, however, that we should be treated as professionals in the NHS - not as its slave labour.

Dr Paul Thorpe

Bristol