We have many choices in life, but one thing we have very little say on is when we become ill or need medical assistance. That is why in our manifesto at the last general election, and in my leaflets in Folkestone and Hythe, we pledged to deliver a 7 day a week NHS, so that patients can have the confidence that they will receive the same high quality care, whenever they need it. This should include more services delivered in the community, so that patients can avoid long journeys to hospital in Ashford and Canterbury; or sometimes even further afield. It should also mean that if patients do need hospital treatment at the weekend, they have access to the same excellent emergency care and diagnostic testing as they would do during the week.
Folkestone was the first town in Kent to offer seven day a week access to a GP though the Royal Victoria Hospital. More people are making use of this service, and the minor injuries unit, instead of going to A&E at the William Harvey hospital. Local patients have also seen an improvement in services with the introduction of a new paramedic service which can treat people at home. I would like to see more of these services available right across the district. Having access to a GP is the frontline of the NHS for many patients, and concerns have been raised about whether we will have the doctors we need to replace those who are coming up for retirement. In order to make sure that we do, the government last week announced that there will be an extra £2.3 billion a year investment in GP services, and a commitment alongside that to recruit an additional 5000 doctors.
This week, for the first time ever, junior doctors have gone on strike and removed their services from emergency care. During the course of the strike action in this long running pay dispute, over 150,000 sick and vulnerable people have seen their care disrupted. The one substantial area of disagreement between the government and the doctors, is over the amount of premium pay they will receive for working on a Saturday. The strike action is going ahead despite the fact that in the settlement offered by the Department for Health, junior doctors basic pay will rise by 13.5 per cent. Three-quarters of doctors will see their take home pay rise and no-one working within contracted hours will see a pay cut. In addition to this the maximum number of hours that a junior doctor can be asked to work in one week will be cut from 91 to 72 hours. Under the new contract, no doctor will work consecutive weekends, there’ll be additional pay for working nights, Saturday evenings, and all day Sunday. Finally those working one in four or more Saturdays will receive a pay premium of 30 per cent. The new contract offers junior doctors who work frequently at weekends more Saturday premium pay than nurses, paramedics, the assistants who work in operating theatres, police officers, and firefighters.
It is time for the British Medical Association, the union that represents the junior doctors, to bring this dispute to an end.