NHS morale 'at an all-time low' says junior doctor as he leaves Wales behind for Australia

Speaking to the current affairs series Y Byd ar Bedwar, Jack Tagg said "the situation in the NHS" has gotten "drastic." Credit: Jack Tagg

A junior doctor from Wales said he is moving to Australia for "better pay and support" because morale within the NHS is at an "all-time low".

Jack Tagg told Y Byd ar Bedwar that there are more advantages to moving to the other side of the world than continuing in the NHS.

He said better support, pay, and working hours are all factors drawing him to the country, adding that the NHS is "running on goodwill".

Mr Tagg, who has worked at Prince Charles Hospital in Merthyr Tydfil and Glangwili Hospital in Carmarthen for the last two years said he hoped the move would help him "enjoy" his job again.

"I’ve had friends who have gone to Australia where the pressures don’t feel as smothering as in the NHS," he said.

"I thought maybe going to a new country, to a system where you’re better supported, the pay is better, the average working hours are less, I thought it might be a more enjoyable environment to work in because morale in the NHS is at an all-time low.

"It's never an easy decision to up-sticks completely and move to the other side of the world, but I think that just shows how drastic the situation in the NHS has gotten."

Mr Tagg has also said doctor retention is "as poor as it’s ever been".

"When I’m the only junior [doctor] for 40 patients, I physically can’t do all the jobs in the set amount of time I’m contracted," he said.

"There’s just simply not enough staff, the NHS is literally running on goodwill at the minute.

"If you didn’t get staff staying half an hour, an hour extra each day on top of their contracted hours, so for free, I mean… you'd be making even less of an impact.

"Getting less than £14 as someone who’s ultimately got lives on their hands and has to do all of these complex, stressful and demanding tasks, those levels of pay are simply derogatory, and they are really off-putting to prospective students."

Jack Tagg has been studying for many years to become a doctor but he feels "overwhelmed" by the pressures on staff here. Credit: Jack Tagg

And it seems like Mr Tagg isn't alone in wanting to find a future outside of the NHS.

A freedom of information request to the General Medical Council revealed that 729 doctors left the Welsh NHS in the last five years.

25% (179) of doctors indicated that they would be moving overseas (figures as of 18 September 2023).

Next month, junior doctors will vote on whether to go on strike. It comes after the Welsh Government offered a 5% salary increase - the lowest offer of all governments in the UK.

If the strikes go ahead, it’ll be the first time ever that junior doctors in Wales have walked out over pay.

In order to apply for an overseas job, health workers must obtain a Certificate of Good Standing from the General Medical Council.

Applying for one of these certificates does not mean a doctor has definitely left the UK, but it shows an intention to work abroad in the future.

Over the past 10 years, almost 600 doctors in Wales have received the certificate, with Australia being the most popular destination of choice.

"I feel out here that I’m just able to provide the service that I trained so hard to give."

Dr Lloyd Evans is a GP originally from the Vale of Glamorgan. He spent seven years as a doctor in Wales, before getting his certificate two and a half years ago and moving to Perth in Western Australia.

Pictured: Lloyd, Gloria, Gethin, Arthur and mum Claire in Australia. Credit: Lloyd Evans

"I feel out here that I’m just able to provide the service that I trained so hard to give," he said.

"Back in Wales, I was finding that I wanted to do so much for my patients but the way the system was set up I just couldn’t.

"Here I can spend the time I want with a patient… giving them the service that they deserve."

In addition to the improved working conditions, Dr Evans said he’s drawn to Australia due to higher salaries, and a better quality of life for his whole family.

"Out here I'm paid almost three times as much as I would be as a salaried GP in the UK," he said.

"You see the adverts, you see online, you see the brochures about the sun, the beaches and Western Australia. It doesn't disappoint.

"I’ve got a 16-year-old, a seven-year-old and now a four-month-old and what a place to bring up a family here.

"I feel my patients here value me, I feel I'm valued within the system I work for.

"That’s something the Welsh Government and the NHS really have to think about, is making doctors feel valued and making them feel as if they’re really getting just reward for the sacrifices they make."

Dr Iona Collins of the British Medical Association in Wales said: "It’s becoming more difficult to justify to ourselves and our families why we should continue to almost abuse ourselves to remain working in the NHS when it’s got to such a poor state of affairs.

Dr Iona Collins of the BMA in Wales said, "it is becoming less and less attractive to remain working in the NHS."

"It is becoming less and less attractive to remain working in the NHS and in fact, it’s damaging the health of those who are actually working in the healthcare system itself."

She continued: "The standard of the NHS is now unacceptable…Doctors are needed to provide a health service and there are not enough doctors to provide it.

"The way to get doctors into the service is to pay them correctly."

When asked what she thought about doctors who move abroad, Dr Collins said: “I have every sympathy for doctors who have the ability to remove themselves from this workplace and work in a healthier workplace where they can use the skills they have learnt more effectively."

A Welsh Government spokesperson said, "this is the toughest financial situation we have faced since devolution." Credit: PA Images

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “We greatly value the work all doctors – and all healthcare staff – do every day.

"Retaining staff is equally as important as recruiting new staff. Our National Workforce Implementation Plan sets out actions to improve retention, including improving staff wellbeing, and continued investment in education and training.

“The number of doctors, including consultants, directly employed by the NHS in Wales has increased every year for the last eight years, and we now have a record high number of doctors. In March this year, there was a 21 % increase in junior doctors compared with March 2020.

"The number of GPs in Wales has remained stable in recent years, while the number of trainee GPs has been increasing substantially.

“Whilst we acknowledge NHS Wales doctors may be disappointed in the pay award this year, this is the toughest financial situation we have faced since devolution.

"We will work with employers and unions to deliver the working environment and conditions our NHS staff deserve and need to continue providing high-quality care for the people of Wales.”

Watch the programme with English Subtitles on Y Byd ar Bedwar at 20:00, 23 October on S4C, S4C Clic and BBC iPlayer.

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