In what BBC has said is possibly “the most disruptive” strike in history, thousands of junior physicians in the U.K. walked out of both planned and emergency care centers April 11 to advocate for fair wages. Though it’s across the pond, there are a few things physicians in the U.S. should pay attention to, experts say.
Though the U.K. and U.S. have different healthcare systems — public vs. private — the core of healthcare work in caring for patients is fundamentally the same.
Nicholas Dragolea is a junior physician in the U.K. enrolled in the general practice specialty training program — equivalent to the U.S. medical residency. He has just one year left to complete. This week, Dr. Dragolea was one of the thousands to walk out, joining the British Medical Association’s push for a 35 percent pay increase for junior physicians, which according to BBC, “would make up for 15 years of below-inflation wage rises which has caused a recruitment and retention crisis.”
The strike is something a National Health Service official told BBC could result in the cancellation of nearly 350,000 appointments and may even halt some operations, altogether — but the message behind the strike outweighs that, Dr. Dragolea told Becker’s.
“It’s difficult knowing that the strike may inconvenience patients in the short term, and it’s not something any of us take lightly,” he said. “Fortunately, I feel that we are strongly supported by the senior staff, management and the public as most people understand the underlying reasons are more than just wanting a higher salary.”
In many instances, junior physicians are even paid less than fast food workers, CNN reported. On top of that, junior physicians account for “nearly half of the medical workforce in England,” according to the BBC.
The other underlying reasons, as he explained to Becker’s, are also concerns with the NHS’s quality of care for patients due to inadequate front-line staffing and structure of pay, which “has led to increasing pressure on the workforce, which reinforces dissatisfaction with the current hourly remuneration rates in comparison to other equivalent career pathways in the U.K. or abroad.”
Quality care has no borders
The reasons fueling the strike connect back to one core focus: clinicians’ ability to provide quality care to patients.
“Patient safety, workload and quality of care have always been at the heart of the strike option, in my opinion,” Dr. Dragolea told Becker’s. He noted that in 2016, when the previous strike occurred, it was largely about “a concern about the longer working hours and the negative impact on patient care.”
This time, he said he and his colleagues are concerned that the quality of care may be hurt by the decreasing number and quality of medical workers as more physicians choose to practice abroad or change careers chasing better pay options elsewhere — something he said the U.S. could learn from.
“U.S. hospitals and physicians can learn from this by proactively addressing staffing shortages and investing in the recruitment and retention of medical professionals,” Dr. Dragolea said. “There should also be an emphasis on physician wellbeing, promotion of mental health initiatives and creating a healthier work-life balance. It is this lack of work-life balance that can lead to burnout and ultimately compromise patient care.”
At every level of expertise, across practice specialties and around the world, physicians share a few key things needed to excel in providing patients with quality care, he noted: a strong foundation in medical knowledge, ongoing professional development and access to adequate resources and support throughout their career.
Proper staffing and manageable work-life balance are also key to “ensure focused attention on each patient,” he explained.
“Creating a positive work culture that encourages collaboration, open communication and respect among healthcare professionals is vital to improving the work-life satisfaction of physicians and therefore improving the quality of care provided,” Dr. Dragolea said.
Danielle Kelvas, MD, a physician and medical writer for Hospital Recruiting, a physician and healthcare job board, underscored several of Dr. Dragolea’s points, referencing the importance for U.S. hospitals and health systems to do better with their own “communication and collaboration between medical professionals and hospital administration to avoid similar conflicts,” she told Becker’s.
“The recent junior doctor strike in the U.K. offers several lessons that U.S. hospitals and physicians can learn from,” Dr. Kelvas said. “Senior doctors and consultants were able to hold the fort during the strike, doing tasks they hadn’t done for a decade or more, which highlights the importance of maintaining a diverse skill set among medical professionals.”
Additionally, she noted that as she has been following the news abroad, “the junior doctor contract has proven particularly difficult to negotiate,” and previously proposed contracts are ultimately what led to the unprecedented scale of the strike, which for U.S. hospitals should “serve as a reminder of the need for adequate staffing levels and fair compensation for medical professionals.”
At this time, the U.K. strike is set to go through April 15.