Pret a Manger has announced it will pay up to £14.10 per hour. A junior doctor makes just £14.09.
This is a remarkable comparison that’s been made, that some junior doctors would earn more serving coffee to customers in a branch of Pret a Manger.
While the figures in this article were correct at the time they were published, some have since been updated. For the latest information please see our January 2024 article on junior doctor pay.
The British Medical Association (BMA), whose members are currently taking part in the junior doctors’ strike, launched an advertising campaign on Sunday claiming that a junior doctor is paid less per hour than some people who work at the cafe chain Pret a Manger.
This claim has also been shared on Twitter by the Labour MPs Diane Abbott, Beth Winter and Ian Byrne.
It is true that some baristas at Pret a Manger can earn up to £14.10 per hour (including a performance-related bonus). However the figure for “a junior doctor” is potentially misleading, if it is taken to mean the typical pay for the average junior doctor.
In fact, it represents the hourly basic pay for the lowest-ranked doctors, who make up about 11% of junior doctors in general.
It would also only apply to doctors who receive no pay at higher rates, for instance for working nights or weekends. And it spreads their annual salary across every week of the year, including the roughly seven weeks that these doctors receive as paid time off—as a result the hourly pay includes pay for some hours when doctors are not working.
In practice it is likely that very few junior doctors, if any at all, are paid £14.09 for each hour of work that they are required to do. Although there is evidence that many also work unpaid overtime.
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How the figure has been reported
The BMA explained how the figure was calculated in its press release, but not in its advertisement.
Some striking junior doctors have also been photographed with BMA-branded signs suggesting that £14 per hour is the wage for “a junior doctor”.
In a media fact sheet, the union says that junior doctors may receive “varying amounts of additional pay to reward working unsocial (evening and weekend) hours, additional hours, being on-call, and to incentivise certain training programmes/patterns and further academic qualifications”.
The £14 figure was sometimes reported in the media as the hourly pay of newly qualified doctors, without the caveats about extra pay and holiday pay, including in the i and the Daily Record, and on the Sky News website. It also appeared without any caveats in a tweet from ITV News.
The government has responded, according to some newspaper reports, by saying that the BMA’s advert was misleading, on the basis that “it does not take account of the additional earning capacity and pay progression available to junior doctors”.
We’ve also seen the £14 figure described as the pay of “a junior doctor” on Facebook.
We’ve seen many misleading claims about pay during recent industrial disputes, including claims about junior doctors’ pay demands, how much it would cost to raise nurses’ pay and how much their pay is rising. We’ve also fact checked claims about the pay of rail workers.
It’s essential that all sides use accurate information when talking about pay, so that the public can understand the facts about what people earn, what unions are asking for, and how much a pay rise might cost.
What the BMA said
In a press release published on 12 March, the BMA said that “newly-qualified” junior doctors “earn just £14.09 an hour”.
In notes lower down, the press release explained that junior doctors’ “current hourly basic pay for delivering essential weekday care can be as low as £14.09 at the start of their career”.
The note set out that the figure was calculated using the basic pay of doctors in Foundation Year 1 (FY1), meaning they had just graduated from medical school, which in 2022/23 is set at £29,384.
By dividing this figure by 40, which is a junior doctor’s minimum number of contracted hours per working week, and then scaling it down by the number of weeks in a 365-day year, the BMA produced an hourly pay figure of £14.09 per hour.
Full Fact asked the BMA about this method, and it told us that hourly rates on junior doctors’ payslips are produced in the same way. (We have not been able to verify this at the time of writing.) This method divides a junior doctor’s annual basic pay between all the workable hours in the year (40 hours in each of the 52 weeks).
However, FY1 junior doctors are also entitled to five weeks’ annual leave, in addition to public holidays, and some other junior doctors are entitled to six weeks. If you assumed that junior doctors did not work on these days and calculated an hourly rate based only on the hours they did work (40 hours in each of roughly 45 weeks), the figure would be higher than £14.09.
What else you need to know
Junior doctors in FY1 make up about 11% of all junior doctors in England, according to the latest NHS England workforce statistics for November 2022. (The BMA defines “junior doctors” and those recorded in the data as Specialty Registrar, Core Training, Foundation Doctor Year 2 or Foundation Doctor Year 1.)
In practice, many junior doctors also earn higher hourly rates for a variety of reasons, including working at unsociable times. The BMA itself recommends much higher hourly rates when junior doctors do locum work. The latest pay statistics from NHS England show that about 8% of FY1 doctors’ total earnings came from extra pay for working shifts and unsociable hours in the year to September last year, and some higher-ranked junior doctors earned a higher proportion in this way.
Many junior doctors also work unpaid overtime, which would effectively lower their hourly rate if these hours were included.
It is possible to roughly estimate what an average junior doctor earns in practice, using the latest average pay data from NHS England, which covers the year up to September 2022.
This suggests that the average full-time doctor in one of the BMA’s four junior doctor pay grades earned about £43,000 per year in basic pay—and significantly more if you include non-basic pay.
There are many different ways of using these figures to calculate an average hourly rate, and there is some uncertainty in the data, but in general it suggests a range of roughly £20-30 per hour.
These rates may be higher now, as they include pay from 2021/22, when salaries were lower than they are in the current financial year (not accounting for inflation).
None of these figures necessarily represent the pay of the junior doctors who are on strike, as BMA members may not be representative of junior doctors as a whole.
A BMA spokesperson told us: “Of course, our campaign is not suggesting £14.09 is the hourly basic rate for all junior doctors, as this title covers everyone from newly-graduated medics to people who have been working for 8-to-10 years or more as doctors.”
What about Pret’s figure?
We also contacted Pret a Manger, which confirmed that pay for a “team member” in one of its shops would increase on 1 April to £10.60-11.90 per hour, depending on location and experience (or £11.85-13.15 per hour with a performance-related bonus), and for a “barista” to £11.20-12.85, or £12.45-14.10 with the bonus.
It is therefore true to say that some experienced baristas at some Pret a Manger locations will earn £14.10 per hour in the weeks when their branch earns a bonus.
Pret a Manger also confirmed that its figures do not include holiday pay and that this is paid as an additional top up for any time taken off.
Thanks to Dr Billy Palmer at the Nuffield Trust for help in researching this article.
Image courtesy of SJ Objio