A candlelit vigil will be staged by junior doctors tonight on the eve of a strike which will see thousands of Yorkshire appointments and operations postponed.
Around 50 protestors are expected to gather outside the Department of Health’s Quarry House headquarters in Leeds, where an ‘indefinite’ peaceful protest calling for talks is underway, tonight from 6pm to 10pm.
The move comes as the bitter dispute between the British Medical Association (BMA) and Government over a new contract for junior doctors reaches new heights.
Tens of thousands of junior doctors are set to stage an unprecedented full walk-out on Tuesday and Wednesday from 8am to 5pm. The action is an escalation of previous strikes, which saw junior doctors in emergency care stay in work.
In Leeds alone around 2,300 outpatient appointments, 73 inpatient operations and 28 day cases are likely to be postponed during the strike while more than 1,000 outpatient clinics and 37 operations in Mid Yorkshire will be affected.
According to figures from NHS England, almost 113,000 outpatient appointments and nearly 13,000 planned operations will need to be rearranged nationally.
Dr Ffion Wells, a GP trainee living in Roundhay, has helped to organise the vigil. She said: “We are gathering outside the Department of Health to try and send a clear message to Jeremy Hunt that we really hope, even at this late hour, he will decide to drop the imposition of this contract and return to meaningful talks.”
Speaking of tomorrow’s impending strike, she added: “It’s not something that’s been taken lightly and all of us deeply regret the delay in treatment some patients will face but we have made the decision based on the longer term impact this contract will cause for patients and the NHS as a whole.”
Senior medical leaders from more than a dozen royal colleges and faculties pleaded with Prime Minister David Cameron to step into the dispute “at the 11th hour” to break the stalemate between the BMA and Government today.
But, speaking in the Commons this afternoon, Mr Hunt stood firm over the dispute and refused to bow to BMA pressure, adding that there are plans in place to provide safe care, particular in maternity, A&E and crisis mental health services during the strike.
He said: “The impact of the next two days will be unprecedented with over 110,000 outpatient appointments and over 12,500 operations cancelled.
“However, the NHS has made exhaustive preparations in order to try to make sure patients remain safe.”
Mr Hunt added that “no trade union has a right to veto a manifesto promise voted for by the British people”.