Junior doctors were on the picket lines outside Leeds’s hospitals today amid an ongoing row with the Government over new contracts.
Hundreds of appointments and operations have been postponed as medics stage a 48-hour ‘emergency care only’ walk-out.
This week’s strike follows Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s controversial decision last month to impose a new junior doctors’ contract – branded “unsafe and unfair” by critics – from August.
Neurology doctor Kieran Zucker, who was on strike at Leeds General Infirmary, said: “Considering the terrible weather, it’s a pretty good turnout but it’s a shame we’re here in the first place.
“We’re only here because the government is insisting on imposing a set of changes which are going to lead unsafe staffing on wards and leave doctors overworked.
“The voices of over 50,000 doctors aren’t being listened to.”
He said public support remained strong, adding: “There are lots of people who genuinely believe that we’re fighting for the right things – the rights of patients and safe care. Despite that, the Government chose to impose a set of terms and conditions that are frankly dangerous.”
Trainees are picketing outside every major hospital in the region today in the third British Medical Association (BMA) strike in recent months.
Pickets will also be staged on Thursday morning at all hospitals except those in Mid Yorkshire, where afternoon pickets will start at 1.30pm. Further 48-hour partial walk-outs are due from 8am on April 6 and 26.
Mr Hunt’s announcement that the new contracts would be imposed came after talks with the BMA broke down.
The last remaining sticking point in negotiations was believed to have been the Government’s desire to cut the number of ‘unsocial hours’ doctors can receive additional pay for.
Currently, 7pm to 7am Monday to Friday and all of Saturday and Sunday attracts premium pay for junior doctors but Government wants the Saturday day shift to be paid at a normal rate in return for a hike in basic pay.
The Health Secretary claims the new deal will mean a basic salary increase of 13.5 per cent.
But the Government wanted the Saturday day shift to be paid at a normal rate in return for a hike in basic pay.
The BMA rejected this and urged Mr Hunt to accept its proposal to reduce the 11 per cent rise in basic pay offered by ministers and instead have better premium rates on Saturdays.
The doctors’ union is launching a judicial review after finding that the Government appears to have failed to undertake an Equality Impact Assessment (EIA) prior to its decision to impose the contract.
It says that under the Equality Act 2010, the Government must show “due regard” to equalities issues, typically assessed through an EIA prior to making a decision.
Josh Nwanazia, a respiratory doctor who was picketing outside St James’s Hospital, said: “We are continuing to fight our corner because this contract isn’t fair and it isn’t safe.”
He added: “Providing the public can see we are here striking for something that we believe in, that is in their interests, then I’m sure their support will remain. There’s scope for a few more strikes yet.
“We feel there’s a bigger picture at stake, and that’s the issue of patient safety.”
A Department of Health spokesman said patients have seen more than 19,000 operations cancelled due to the BMA’s “irresponsible” strikes.
He said: “We urge junior doctors to look at the detail of the contract and the clear benefits it brings.”