Junior doctor

In the United Kingdom, junior doctors are qualified medical practitioners working whilst engaged in postgraduate training. The period of being a junior doctor starts when they qualify as a medical practitioner following graduation with a Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery degree and start the UK Foundation Programme, it culminates in a post as a Consultant, a General Practitioner (GP), or some other non-training post, such as a Staff grade or Associate Specialist post.

The term junior doctor currently incorporates the grades of Foundation doctor and Specialty registrar. Prior to 2007 it included the grades of Pre-registration house officer, Senior house officer and Specialist registrar. During this time junior doctors will do postgraduate examinations to become members of a Medical royal college relevant to the specialty in which they are training, for example Membership of the Royal College of Physicians for doctors specialising in Internal medicine, Membership of the Royal College of Surgeons for doctors specialising in surgery or Membership of the Royal College of General Practitioners for doctors specialising in family medicine. Doctors typically may be junior doctors for 5–15 years, and this may be extended by doing research towards a higher degree, for example towards a Doctor of Philosophy or Doctor of Medicine degree. In England there are around 53,000 junior doctors.[1]

Working hours

In Europe and the US there has been some reduction of the working hours of doctors who are in postgraduate training, in line with recommendations and legislation aimed at improving patient safety and doctors’ working conditions.[2] In 1991 the government, the NHS and the British Medical Association (BMA) agreed a package of measures on working hours, pay and conditions which was called the New Deal for Junior Doctors. The Doctors' duty hours, which were felt to be excessive, were reduced to a maximum average of 56 hours actual work and 72 hours on call duty per week, although the change was not enforced until 1 December 2000.[3] The European Working Time Directive (EWTD) sets out minimum health and safety requirements for the organisation of working time. The EWTD required the average working week to fall to 48 hours or less by 2009.[4]

The shortening of junior doctors' working hours had implications for how training programmes are organised, especially for specialties such as surgery where there was a tradition of maximising the hours of experience.[4] Most studies that have looked at a reduction of junior doctors working hours have found either a beneficial or neutral impact in terms of measures of patient safety, clinical outcomes and postgraduate training.[2]

The reduction in number of hours worked by junior doctors is one of the factors leading to blurring distinctions between them and other clinical professions such as nurse practitioners who also perform complex tasks.[5]


An Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development survey in December 2015 showed that 35.4% of NHS doctors, 34,000, were born abroad compared with 5% in Italy, 10.7% in Germany and 19.5% in France. The UK was the second highest exporter of doctors, second only to Germany, with 17,000 British doctors working in other OECD countries. These figures are for all doctors in the NHS, not just junior doctors.[6]

Modernising medical careers

In 2005 postgraduate medical training was significantly changed in the Modernising Medical Careers programme. A two-year Foundation Programme was introduced for newly qualified doctors, the number of years of postgraduate training changed in some specialities, and doctors needed to decide which speciality to follow sooner after graduation.[7]

There were later initiatives to engage junior doctors in NHS leadership; junior doctors are seen as essential to the drives to achieve efficiency savings in the NHS since 2010.[8]

NHS Medical Career Grades
Old System New System (Modernising Medical Careers)
Year 1: Pre-registration House Officer (PRHO)

1 year

Foundation Programme: 2 years
Year 2: Senior House Officer (SHO) a minimum of 2 years, although often more.
Year 3: Specialty Registrar (StR) in a hospital specialty: 6–8 years Specialty Registrar (StR) in general practice: 3 years
Year 4: Specialist Registrar: 4–6 years GP Registrar: 1 year
Year 5: General Practitioner

total time in training: 4 years

Years 6-8: General Practitioner

total time in training: 5 years

Year 9: Consultant

total time in training: minimum 79 years


total time in training: 810 years*

Optional Training may be extended by pursuing medical research (usually two-three years), usually with clinical duties as well Training may be extended by obtaining an Academic Clinical Fellowship for research, or a Clinical Fellowship for sub-specialisation. *due to competition for consultant posts, it may take longer than 8 years to gain Consultant status .

Pay and conditions

The NHS Careers web site stated in 2017:[9]

In 2015 NHS Employers reported the total annual earnings for foundation doctors in England averaged just over £36,000. While the basic starting salary for doctors in speciality training was £30,002, NHS Employers were reporting that average earnings in this group of doctors was nearly £53,000. Junior doctors can spend up to ten years working in the speciality training grade. Some specialties have long training programmes and after more than a decade it is possible for doctors to reach the top end of the pay scale where the combination of basic salary and additional payments could reach £70,000 (at this point. although still junior doctors they could be managing teams, performing surgery and making life-and-death decisions).[10]

In 2013 graduates who had studied medicine or dentistry were the most likely to be employed and had the highest average gross annual pay when compared to graduates who studied other subjects.[11] In 2015, the average starting salary of junior doctors was the third-highest of all graduate starting salaries, after dentistry and chemical engineering.[12] In 2016, it was reported that after 10 years of employment medicine graduates had the highest salary of all degrees.[13] Research conducted in December 2014 showed that across a range of other jobs, almost a third of graduate programmes at Britain's best known and leading employers paid starting salaries of more than £35,000; however, 83% of these leading employers reported that they were recruiting for jobs in London where salaries are higher,[14][15] whereas NHS salaries are set on a nationwide basis, with doctors in London given an additional payment (£2,162 as of 2013) known as London weighting to compensate for increased cost of living.[16]

Since 2007 junior doctors have been receiving below inflation salary rises.[17] The independent Review Body on Doctors' and Dentists' Remuneration (DDRB) takes evidence from a range of sources and makes recommendations around pay; in 2015 they recommended a 1% pay increase.[18] In 2005, the average starting earnings (salary plus bonuses) for a medical graduate was £32,086.[19] In an inflationary environment all wage-earners, including doctors, may find the buying power of their income becomes less; some describe this as a real-terms cut in pay of 15% between 2007-2014.[18]


Doctors pay professional annual fees to maintain registration with the General Medical Council and medical indemnity cover. Junior doctors also incur costs associated with training courses, preparing for and sitting exams and college membership; training can be associated with £420-£3,000 of professional fees annually, depending on stage of training and level of income.[20] English students embarking on a medical degree could in 2015 expect to pay £40,000 on university tuition fees alone.[21] Student loans are available to meet these costs, with repayment starting as soon as individuals begin working as a junior doctor.[21] University tuition in Scotland is free for students ordinarily resident in Scotland, and grants and loans are available to help with living costs.[22]

Changes to working patterns of doctors meant there was no longer a requirement for first year junior doctors to be resident, and from 2008 free accommodation was no longer provided by employers.[23] The British Medical Association said that this amounted to a £4,800 annual pay cut for those who might have previously lived at the hospital rather than independently, but the numbers of doctors involved was not clear.[23] Ann Keen, Labour Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health Services, stated "The provision of free accommodation for foundation year 1 doctors who are on call at night, is dependent on the contract of employment of the junior doctor, which is for agreement locally. The Junior Doctors Terms and Conditions of Service continue to provide that if a doctor is contractually required to live in hospital accommodation no charges should be made for the accommodation provided."[24]


The NHS Careers web site states:[9]

Pension scheme

Junior doctors may pay into the NHS Pension Scheme which from April 2015 has been a Career Average Revalued Earnings (CARE) scheme. The 2015 scheme involves paying towards a pension which will be based on the average of a member's pensionable earnings throughout their whole career, with a revaluation of active members benefits in line with the Consumer price index plus 1.5 per cent per annum.[25][26] The 1995/2008 scheme is closed to new entrants.

Contract dispute in England

Since 2012 NHS Employers and the BMA had been in negotiation towards a new contract for junior doctors. These talks ran into serious problems when the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, appeared willing to impose items from the Conservative 2015 election manifesto upon junior doctors in England.[27]

On the 12th of January 2016, Junior Doctors in England took part in the first general strike across the NHS, the first such industrial action in 40 years. Emergency care was still provided.[28] There have been claims that the Medical Director of NHS England, Professor Sir Bruce Keogh, has used performance target levels to justify and encourage NHS Trusts to declare an emergency situation, forcing Junior Doctors to work despite the strike, a move to which the BMA has condemned.[29]

In September 2015, Hunt proposed new contracts for junior doctors which would scrap overtime rates for work between 7am and 10pm on every day except Sunday while increasing their basic pay in a move that Hunt said would be cost neutral, a claim the BMA say NHS Employers have been unable to support with robust data.[30][31] In response, the doctor's union, the BMA, called for a strike, the first since the 1970s.[32] The strike vote started on 5 November.[33] In November 2015, the BMA balloted over 37,700 of their members in response to Hunt's contract proposals; 76% of eligible doctors voted with 99.6% of doctors voting for action short of strike and 98% voting for all out strike.[34] In November 2015 Hunt said he would offer a basic pay increase of 11%, but still removing compensation for longer hours.[35][36][37] On 19 November 2015 the result of the BMA strike ballot was announced, with more than 99% in favour of industrial action short of a strike, and 98% voting for full strike action. Hunt said the strike was "very disappointing", but declined the appeal for arbitration at this time.[38] He was criticized for failing to answer MP's questions about the strike, with his deputy claiming he was too busy preparing for the strike.[39] Hunt eventually agreed to discussions overseen by Acas. After five days of talks between the government and BMA, Hunt withdrew his threat to impose a new contract without agreement and the strike action that had been planned for December was suspended.[40] The first day of strike action was called off hours before it was due to start (too late to avoid some disruption), with later days suspended.[41][42][43]

On 24 December 2015, Dr Johann Malawana, leader of the BMA’s junior doctors committee (JDC), gave a 4 January deadline for the talks to result an acceptable outcome, or industrial action would be announced.[44] An agreement was not reached by this deadline and so the BMA announced that a strike would go ahead, blaming "the government's continued failure to address junior doctors’ concerns about the need for robust contractual safeguards on safe working, and proper recognition for those working unsocial hours".[45][46] The first day of the strike went ahead on 12 January.[47][48] Junior doctors again withdrew their labour for routine care on 10 February 2016, leading to the cancellation of around 3,000 elective operations.[49]

Rest breaks

In a case involving University Hospitals of Derby and Burton NHS Foundation Trust in July 2019 the Court of Appeal decided that the trust had breached the 2002 contract for junior doctors because their hours and rest periods had been underestimated by commercial software over some years. The case will affect other NHS employers and substantial arrears will be due.[50]

Patient mortality

The period in August where there was a large changeover of hospital staff has sometimes been dubbed the "killing season" (due to a perception that there is an associated rise in the number of patient deaths).[51] In 2009 research looking at emergency admissions to hospitals in England established that a small but statistically significant increase in patient mortality was occurring during August.[52] The limited data was collected retrospectively over an 8-year period, comparing two week-long blocks (one week prior to commencement, one week post commencement). The methodology meant that drawing firm conclusions was unwise with correlation not implying causation.[51] In the month when junior doctors start working - when other factors are adjusted for patients had a 6% increase in mortality.[51] For patients admitted as an emergency who were not requiring surgery or suffering from cancer, the mortality rate increased by 7.86%.[51]

Other concerns have been raised regarding mortality following admission to hospital at a weekend. A research paper published in 2012, looked retrospectively at data from 2009; the study observed an increase in 30-day mortality for people admitted to hospital on Saturday and Sunday, compared to mid-week days.[53] The risk of dying in a hospital on Saturday or Sunday was actually less than on a weekday.[53] The data in the study did not enable the authors to describe the cause of this so-called weekend effect. Subsequently, there has been considerable speculation around whether the availability of consultants was a factor.[54] The authors of the paper have also openly criticised the conclusions drawn by the government and popular media on the paper, saying that to draw such conclusions as to associated decreased weekend staffing levels to increased mortality at 30 days post-admission would be "rash and misleading".[55]

See also


  1. ^ Campbell, Denis (29 September 2015). "Junior doctors contract row: an explainer". The Guardian.
  2. ^ a b Moonesinghe, S R (22 March 2011). "Impact of reduction in working hours for doctors in training on postgraduate medical education and patients' outcomes: systematic review". BMJ. 342: d1580. doi:10.1136/bmj.d1580.
  3. ^ Brown, Steve (1 February 2001). "Q & A: Junior doctors' pay deal explained". The Guardian. Retrieved 22 November 2015.
  4. ^ a b Fitzgerald JE, Caesar B (2012). "The European working time directive: A practical review for surgical trainees". International Journal of Surgery. 10 (8): 399–403. doi:10.1016/j.ijsu.2012.08.007. PMID 22925631.
  5. ^ Lomas, Clare (29 September 2009). "Trespassers on medical ground?". Nursing Times. Retrieved 22 November 2015.
  6. ^ "One in three UK doctors born abroad, international research shows". Daily Telegraph. 28 December 2015. Retrieved 28 December 2015.
  7. ^ Hays, Richard (3 September 2005). "Foundation programme for newly qualified doctors". BMJ. 331 (7515): 465–466. doi:10.1136/bmj.331.7515.465. PMC 1199009. PMID 16141134.
  8. ^ Brown, Benjamin; Ahmed-Little, Yasmin; Stanton, Emma (March 2012). "Why we cannot afford not to engage junior doctors in NHS leadership". Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. 105 (3): 105–110. doi:10.1258/jrsm.2012.110202. PMC 3308637. PMID 22434809.
  9. ^ a b "Pay for doctors". Health Careers. 2017. Retrieved 9 October 2018.
  10. ^ Nick Triggle (2016-01-04). "Junior doctors row: What you need to know". BBC News.
  11. ^ "Graduates in the UK Labour Market: 2013". Office for National Statistics. In 2013 those graduates that had an undergraduate degree in medicine or dentistry were the most likely to be employed and had the highest average gross annual pay
  12. ^ "Top 10 degree subjects for graduate starting salaries". Which?. Medical degrees have, and will no doubt continue to have, some of the best employment outcomes of any degree in terms of salary expectations and long-term prospects.
  13. ^ Brian Milligan. "To earn more, study medicine or economics, says IFS". BBC News. If you want to earn a big salary, you would be advised to study medicine or economics, says a report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS). Just ten years after graduation, male medical students earned a median wage of £55,000, the research found. Female medical students also became the highest earners, typically making £45,000 a year.
  14. ^ "The Graduate Market in 2015" (PDF). High Fliers Research. Retrieved 22 November 2015.
  15. ^ "How does your salary compare with the rest of the country?". Metro. 2015-11-18.
  16. ^ "F1 Pay Scale". South Thames Foundation School. 2014-03-31.
  17. ^ Jaques, Helen (10 June 2011). "How inflation has downsized your pay". BMJ Careers.
  18. ^ a b DDRB. "Review Body on Doctors' and Dentists' Remuneration Forty-Third Report 2015: Figure 2.3" (PDF).
  19. ^ "Memorandum of evidence to the Review Body on Doctors' and Dentists' Remuneration. Annex 1 - A comparison of graduate earnings". British Medical Association. 2005-10-01. Archived from the original on June 8, 2007. Retrieved 2007-08-02. Table 3 - Expected earnings for a medical graduate in the first five years post graduation - Year 1 - Weighted average -£32,086CS1 maint: unfit url (link)
  20. ^ Ahmed, Usman; Malik, Shahbaz; Akram, Yasmin (12 September 2012). "Dealing with the costs of being a junior doctor". BMJ Careers. Retrieved 19 November 2015.
  21. ^ a b Ercolani, Marco G; Vohra, Ravinder S; Carmichael, Fiona; Mangat, Karanjit; Alderson, Derek (21 April 2015). "The lifetime cost to English students of borrowing to invest in a medical degree: a gender comparison using data from the Office for National Statistics". BMJ Open. 5 (4): e007335. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2014-007335. PMC 4420932. PMID 25900463. open access
  22. ^ "Financial help for students". Scottish Government. Eligible Scottish domiciled students studying full-time in Scotland are not required to pay tuition fees if studying for a first degree or equivalent. Students may also be eligible to apply for an income assessed bursay and student loan to help with living costs from the Student Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS)
  23. ^ a b "Doctors in accommodation protest". BBC News. 22 May 2008.
  24. ^ "Written answers: Junior Doctors: Accommodation". They Work For You. 3 June 2008.
  25. ^ "2015 NHS Pension Scheme". NHS Employers. 1 April 2015.
  26. ^ "Changes to the NHS (Scotland) Pension Scheme from April 2015". Scottish Public Pensions Agency. Retrieved 22 November 2015.
  27. ^ Wintour, Patrick (4 November 2015). "Jeremy Hunt: I cannot negotiate on manifesto promise of 24-hour NHS". The Guardian. Retrieved 3 January 2016.
  28. ^ Triggle, Nick (1970-01-01). "Junior doctors' strike: Treatments postponed amid walkout - BBC News". Bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 2016-01-12.
  29. ^ "Striking doctors could be ordered back in, in move which sparks fury". Telegraph. Retrieved 2016-01-12.
  30. ^ "Junior doctors:Contract proposals for junior doctors". BMJ. Retrieved 31 October 2015.
  31. ^ Denis Campbell. "Leader of NHS junior doctors urges Jeremy Hunt to reopen negotiations". the Guardian.
  32. ^ Association, Press. "Junior doctors to be balloted for strike action, says British Medical Association". the Guardian. Retrieved 10 October 2015.
  33. ^ "Junior doctors to vote on strike action - British Medical Association".
  34. ^ Campbell, Denis (19 November 2015). "Junior doctors overwhelmingly vote for NHS strikes". The Guardian. Retrieved 3 January 2016.
  35. ^ "Jeremy Hunt offers junior doctors 11% pay rise in bid to end dispute".
  36. ^ "Payrise Offer A PR Stunt, Say Junior Doctors".
  37. ^ "Junior doctors claim Jeremy Hunt's 11% pay rise will be a 'pay cut' of 26%".
  38. ^ "Junior doctors: Jeremy Hunt says strike vote 'very disappointing'".
  39. ^ "Jeremy Hunt an 'absolute disgrace' for refusing to face MPs' questions on junior doctors strike".
  40. ^ Cooper, Charlie (1 December 2015). "Junior doctors strike called off to grant more time for talks". The Independent. Retrieved 3 January 2016.
  41. ^ "Disruption expected as junior doctors' strike called off".
  42. ^ "Doctors' strike called off after Hunt lifts threat to impose new contract".
  43. ^ "Junior doctors strike called off to grant more time for talks".
  44. ^ "Junior doctors likely to strike as government talks falter".
  45. ^ "Junior doctors in England to strike next week after talks break down".
  46. ^ "Junior doctors announce they will strike next week".
  47. ^ "Junior doctors' strike live: Jeremy Hunt brands strike 'unnecessary' as poll shows high public support for stoppage".
  48. ^ "Junior doctors' strike: Get back to negotiating table - Hunt".
  49. ^ "'Operations hit as doctors strike again". BBC News. 10 February 2016.
  50. ^ "Junior doctors win landmark case over rest breaks". Health Service Journal. 31 July 2019. Retrieved 3 September 2019.
  51. ^ a b c d "'Deaths rise' with junior doctors". BBC News. 22 September 2009.
  52. ^ Jen, Min Hua; Bottle, Alex; Majeed, Azeem; Bell, Derek; Aylin, Paul (23 September 2009). "Early In-Hospital Mortality following Trainee Doctors' First Day at Work". PLoS ONE. 4 (9): e7103. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0007103. PMC 2743809. PMID 19774078.
  53. ^ a b Freemantle, N; Richardson, M; Wood, J; Ray, D; Khosla, S; Shahian, D; Roche, WR; Stephens, I; Keogh, B; Pagano, D (February 2012). "Weekend hospitalization and additional risk of death: An analysis of inpatient data". Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. 105 (2): 74–84. doi:10.1258/jrsm.2012.120009. PMC 3284293. PMID 22307037.
  54. ^ Kirkland, Faye; Campbell, Denis (19 November 2015). "Jeremy Hunt statement on weekend hospital care is misleading, experts warn". The Guardian.
  55. ^ "Increased mortality associated with weekend hospital admission: a case for expanded seven day services?". The BMJ. Retrieved 2016-01-12.

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