Thousands of junior doctors across Yorkshire have taken to the picket line to voice their anger over Government contract proposals – resulting in the cancellation of yet more non-urgent procedures.
The long-running dispute between doctors’ union the British Medical Association (BMA) and the Government over a proposed new contract has led to the second 24-hour ‘emergency care only’ walk-out in the space of a month.
Armed with placards reading ‘Your NHS – we have the faith to fight’ and ‘Trust real doctors not spin doctors’, more than 100 juniors took to Leeds General Infirmary’s Brotherton and Jubilee Wing entrances to chant ‘Save Our NHS’ and hand out flyers this morning.
Their visible show of defiance, buoyed by horn-honking support from passing motorists, was mirrored outside every major hospital in the region in areas like Sheffield, Airedale, York, Hull and Bradford.
Overall doctors staged pickets at around 160 facilities nationwide just hours after further last-ditch talks between the two sides failed to reach an agreement.
NHS England analysis estimates that the strike, running until 8am on Thursday, has seen more than 2,800 non-urgent operations and thousands more appointments disrupted.
Nevertheless at the LGI picket, Dr Kieran Zucker, junior doctor and member of the BMA’s national junior doctor committee, explained that trainees are focused on securing a deal they feel will be safer for both themselves and their patients.
“You can see we have got more people here than the previous strike and junior doctors care passionately about their patients,” he said.
“We are advocates of our patients and when we see a package of changes that will have an affect on patients we are responsible for doing something.
“The fact is that tired doctors make mistakes and that’s exactly what these changes risk.”
The key sticking point in negotiations is over weekend pay. Currently, 7pm to 7am Monday to Friday and the whole of Saturday and Sunday attract a premium rate of pay for junior doctors.
An offer from Government in November said doctors would receive time-and-a-half for hours worked Monday to Sunday between 10pm and 7am, and time-and-a-third for any hours worked between 7pm and 10pm on Saturdays and 7am and 10pm on Sundays.
But in its latest offer, ministers said that as part of an overall agreement, a premium rate of pay could kick in from 5pm on Saturdays rather than 7pm, and at 9pm Monday to Friday.
This offer was rejected by the BMA, which then put forward a proposal that would have seen doctors’ basic pay rise by about half the 11 per cent offered by ministers in return for Saturday not to be treated as a normal working day. Government blocked the deal.
Dr Lucie Cocker, 27, a junior doctor from Roundhay, claims that the conclusion of the junior doctor dispute will have an affect on future contract talks with other NHS staff like midwives, consultants and nurses.
“All the staff in hospitals are so supportive not just because they know it will impact on their contracts but if we are tired that impacts on their work and our patients,” she said.
“We are almost the test case for the Government to see how far they can push it with everybody else. I don’t think they expected junior doctors to put up such a strong stand.”
Juniors argue that to improve care on weekends, Government must commit to extra funding. Its lack of movement in this area has now resulted in two strikes, while a further 48-hour ‘emergency care only’ walk-out was postponed in January.
The stalemate in talks between the two sides could result in Government imposing its planned deal on juniors by August 2016 regardless.
Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said: “We cannot carry on like this. We need to bring this to a conclusion. If the BMA won’t accept a fair and reasonable offer then, yes, it is legitimate and sensible for the secretary of state to consider imposition.”
A Department of Health statement added: “It is very disappointing that tens of thousands of patients and NHS staff have been inconvenienced by the BMA.”