7,000 Junior Doctors march on Downing St

The sit-down in Whitehall after the 7,000-strong junior doctors marched to Downing Street
The sit-down in Whitehall after the 7,000-strong junior doctors marched to Downing Street

‘BY attacking the junior doctors they’ve poached the wrong bear, we really believe in the NHS and an attack on us is an attack on the whole NHS.’

Hannah Davies, a junior doctor and GP trainee in north London was talking at a rally of more than 7,000 junior doctors and their supporters in Waterloo Place, central London on Saturday, ahead of a march on Downing Street.

As the rally was assembling, Hannah told News Line: ‘I’ve been getting really angry at this government and their contempt for the NHS and those who work in it. It’s becoming increasingly clear that they are attacking the very fabric of the NHS for their own benefit.

‘I’m pleased with what the BMA has done so far. But if negotiations fail then the rest of the trade unions must come out to support us. I’m getting a first class lesson in politics and spin.’

Many others attending the rally spoke to News Line. Michelle French said: ‘My daughter’s a junior doctor in Liverpool, that’s why I’m here with my mum. We have to make clear that the public supports the junior doctors.’

Leading BMA member Palak Trivedi said: ‘I’ve been a junior doctor for 11 years. Everybody here is here for slightly different reasons, they are here because they feel there are fundamental aspects of the new contracts which pose risk for patients, threaten the way we can deliver our care as doctors effectively and safely and above all devalue us and threaten our livelihood.

‘The government has lied outright about weekend care in hospitals to further their political agenda – certain politicians have outright lied about weekend hospital care for their own personal gain. Other workers need to show support for the NHS. If things go the way they are the whole trade union movement must get involved.’

Hannah Brotherstone, a GP from Exeter, said: ‘I helped organise the march. I’m concerned things will get worse, we won’t be able to cope and then they will say something has to change and the NHS must be privatised because they can’t afford to fund it, which isn’t true.

‘I think this is the tip of the iceberg. If the junior doctors were pushed into this new contract then that would open the door to all other NHS workers having their conditions wiped out.’

Junior doctor Marie McVeigh, from west London, said: ‘The government are trying to change the definition of plain time and unsocial time and the reason for doing it is to make it cheaper to get more staff working in anti-social hours.

‘Now, as junior doctors, we already work 24/7 and the government wants us to do that but paying us less. We have to make a stand, not just for ourselves but for all NHS staff because it’s very clear they intend to impose this on everyone else as well.’

Junior doctor Dominic Pimenta, who works in London, said: ‘I think a general strike would be a great idea. It’s not just the NHS at stake but the whole of the public sector, this government is out to privatise everything.

‘For us our main message is that the NHS is being worn away and that’s more powerful because people appreciate it’s for everyone. I run a blog on the internet called juniordoctor-blog.com. Many things you read in the papers today are not true and can be de-bunked very easily. Whilst there is some support for us in the newspapers, there are also targeted attacks and a huge propaganda campaign against us.’

Dr Sarah Clark, from north London, said: ‘The government is setting out to dismantle the NHS. Attacking junior doctors is just the first rung, we’re just an easy target. The second rung will be the consultants, then the nurses. The government has to be defeated by a general strike.’

Medical student Sarah Jane Harris said: ‘This contract is not safe and not fair for anybody – bad for doctors, bad for patients, and it will directly affect me when I start working in August.

‘The NHS belongs to every single person in this country, it’s everybody’s business, it will effect everybody, so everybody should fight for it and if necessary, strike for it.’

Shehla Begum a GP trainee at Addenbrookes Hospital in Cambridge, said: ‘We have to stand up for what’s right, what’s in our patients’ interests and in our NHS’s interest.

‘Having worked now for five years as a doctor I’m very well aware of the pressures we have in the NHS.

‘It’s a fantastic institution and we mustn’t let it be destroyed by privatisation. We have the best healthcare system in the world and we have to protect it. The TUC should call a general strike to defend the NHS.’

Rachael Hughes, who was wearing a ‘We Are Not Robots’ outfit, is a medical student in her fourth year. She said: ‘I’m wearing it because we are human beings, devoted to helping people, not robots. Hunt is out to privatise the NHS. Legislation is already in place so that private companies can compete for contracts, what they call “clinical commissioning”, all designed to undermine the NHS. There are so many lies.’

Then the rally got underway, with a stage and video screen showing powerful images of the junior doctors struggle and refuting the Tory propaganda which has been pumped out against them.

The National Health Singers, made up of NHS staff, singers, musicians and public supporters, gave rousing performances of Yours, the Junior Doctors Protest Anthem, at the beginning and the end of the rally.

There were powerful speakers from the stage interspersed with video messages.

Orthopaedic surgeon Roshana Mehdian told the rally: ‘This is the third junior doctors march. We need to stay united.

‘Jeremy Hunt has said in the press that he is waiting for us to get tired. Are we going to get tired?’ she asked the audience, receiving a tumultuous ‘NO!’ in response. This contract is not just about pay, it’s about the sustainability of the NHS.

‘We have to cover for the inadequate numbers of doctors and systematically poor planning by the government. It’s not safe. We will not let Jeremy Hunt and this government’s plans to bring the NHS crashing to the ground succeed.

‘We have all heard that after the strike on Wednesday, on Thursday they will announce they are going to impose this unsafe contract. Don’t tire, never tire. It’s in our hands. We must go forward to victory.’

Jeremy Newman, of the GP Survival Social Media Group, said: ‘We have 5,000 members, you have 63,000. We know what is coming to you is coming to us. We are inspired by what you are doing. Whatever happens next, we’re behind you.’

Harry Carter, Chair of the BMA Medical Student Committee, said: ‘There is relentless spinning in the newspapers. We read in the papers today that the government intends to scrap the bursary for medical students, following its ridiculous scrapping for nurses. Remember when you come out on strike next Wednesday, you have the medical students right behind you.’

Then Palak Trevedi presented an incisive and extremely funny demolition of Jeremy Hunt’s claim that NHS patients are at risk at weekends.

Student nurse Danielle Tiplady, a member of Bursary or Bust, was on next, saying: ‘The removal of the bursary is a terrible thing, as if we are being set up to fail. There is a shortage of 10,000 nurses in London, now nurses are going to finish their training £64,000 in debt.

‘The NHS bursary campaign is holding a week of action, starting with Monument Monday. The main thing is on Wednesday, when we will walk out for one hour in solidarity with the doctors. Full support to the doctors. Students walk out at 10am on Wednesday.’

Nurse Janet Maiden spoke next, saying: ‘I’ve worked 34-years on the wards in central London and I’m inspired by our doctors. Jeremy Hunt is misguided when he attacked you guys first because he thought you’d be a pushover. You’re no pushover, you’re defending the NHS for all of us.’

Fashion designer Vivienne Westwood said: ‘Junior doctors are the future and you will win. Protect our NHS from government cuts. I am against the government and its rotten financial system which is designed to create poverty and which is total rubbish. It is absolutely anti-humanity and dangerous. We want more doctors, more teachers and fair pay. Your fight is everybody’s fight. People are not stupid, they support you, you have the support of public opinion.’

Final speaker was Johann Malawana, who said: ‘Imposition is not strength. There are 54,000 junior doctors, 174,000 BMA members. We are doctors and we are fighting every day. Thousands of BMA members have said NO to Jeremy Hunt. Go ahead Jeremy Hunt! Announce the imposition and see what happens,’ said Malawa, receiving in response loud chants of ‘BMA! BMA! BMA!’

Then the march on Downing Street set off, with banners, placards and flags, with marchers behind the Young Socialists banner chanting: ‘Victory to the Junior Doctors – Call a General Strike!’