11 Jan 2019

Junior doctors' ad campaign 'worth it'

5:35 pm on 11 January 2019

The head of the junior doctors' union won't reveal the cost of an advertising campaign running on prime-time television, but says the members believe it's worth it.

Junior doctors will go on strike next week for 48 hours after mediation between the union and District Health Boards (DHBs) throughout the country failed.

Resident Doctors' Association (RDA) national secretary Deborah Powell told Summer Report that the union met with DHBs over the last two days for mediated bargaining, but significant clawbacks to the terms and conditions remained on the table.

Recently the RDA began running an advertising campaign on TVNZ during the 6pm news bulletin, as well as on social media.

Ms Powell said she isn't sure how much the campaign cost the union, but that it was "quite a bit".

"The public were really supportive during the safer hours campaign, and to a certain extent we're still fighting that fight, so we thought it only appropriate to ensure that the public knew what we're doing, and what was happening here, and that was the reason that the residents put some energy into communicating directly with the public," she said.

Ms Powell said the strikes are necessary to their cause and expects it will have a significant impact on DHBs.

"Electives will be cancelled of course so that's unfortunate, there's nothing we can do to get around that.

"But the senior doctors and consultant specialists will all be on site, so there will be doctors in the hospital, so whilst things that aren't essential won't be done, patients shouldn't worry - if they're sick and go to hospital they will see a doctor," she said.

In 2016 and 2017, thousands of junior doctors took to the streets to protest long working hours and hospital rosters they said were unsafe.

They won a deal to new rosters that cut the number of consecutive days doctors could work from 12 to 10.

However, in November last year a breakaway doctors' union - Specialty Trainees of New Zealand (SToNZ) agreed to a deal with DHBs to work 12 consecutive days if they wish.

Ms Powell said she doesn't believe SToNZ's agreement with DHBs has undermined the NZRDA's negotiations.

"I suspect that the employers think it has, but our members were very strong on the safer hours campaign, obviously they had to strike to gain safer hours, and they put health and safety ahead of their training.

"Our membership hasn't dropped at all, we suspect what has happened is non members or traditional non members of the RDA, joined SToNZ, but our membership is still strong and still as committed to working safely as they ever have been."

"Because they have a collective employment agreement, when ours ceases to exist, which is on 28 February ... then the collective that prevails will be the SToNZ's collective and obviously that will send us back to the dark ages of long hours and all the rest of it so we don't want to let that happen," Ms Powell said.

In response, DHB spokesperson Peter Bramley said a sticking-point over rosters is to blame for the strike.

Dr Bramley said it was not about pay and conditions, but rather rosters.

"The RDA have indeed acknowledged that there are some unintended consequences of a one-size fits all ... unfortunately we've not been able to get them to consider with us some alternates that we've put on the table," he said.

Dr Bramley said local decisions on rosters - which allow for training and flexibility - would be much better than one uniformed roster for all DHBs.

Junior doctors will strike for 48 hours from next Tuesday.