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Monday, 15 September 2008

Shabby way to treat England's newly qualified junior doctors

I whole-heartedly support my English BMA colleagues attack on the Westminster Government's "shameful"refusal to even hold talks about the axing of accommodation support to newly qualified junior doctors. The BMA wrote to Anne Keen, England's Health Minister, back in July to request a meeting about the move to end the legal requirement for NHS trusts to provide free hospital accommodation to first year junior doctors. (At an estimated annual cost of £4,800).

Thousands of freshly qualified junior doctors who began work in August will just be starting to feel the effect of this, facing their first rent payments around now. That's on top of an average debt of £21,000.Even though the BMA has outlined the financial implications of this, Anne Keen refuses to meet with my English counterparts.

Thankfully, BMA Cymru Wales' campaign on this issue has already seen the Welsh Assembly Government guarantee free hospital accommodation for newly qualified junior doctors, until next Summer. Also, the Health Minister, Edwina Hart has established a working group to review staff accommodation across all hospitals in Wales - with respect to standards - which in some hospitals is appalling - to the extent that it should be freely provided.

I sincerely hope in coming up with recommendations, the group takes account of the fact Wales needs to do all it can to ensure junior doctors are attracted to work in Wales, and spend their future career here. While only one piece of the jigsaw in that issue - free accommodation will be one of the factors that influence whether the Health Service and the patients of Wales have the numbers of junior doctors we need, or will be running with disrupted and less than adequate services - as seen with the recent problems at Singleton Accident and Emergency Department.

As good as it is, free accommodation guaranteed until August 2009 is unlikely to be good enough to avoid these risks. And for any prospective junior doctor reading this, rest assured, BMA Cymru Wales will be doing all it can to try and get this message across and encourage the Welsh Assembly Government to continue to support junior doctors as it is doing now, and extend the agreement beyond next year.

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