‘Sunak wants to break our resolve – instead he has united the profession’ – Vivek Trivedi tells powerful doctors Downing Street rally

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Junior doctors fighting to defend the NHS from being cut to pieces

Thousands of junior doctors are manning picket lines outside hospitals around the country again today as they continue their four days of strike action which began last Friday at 7am and concludes at 7am tomorrow.

Speaking at the University College Hospital picket line on the busy Euston Road in central London last Friday, BMA Junior Doctors Committee Co-chair, Dr Robert Laurenson told News Line, ‘Over the last 15 years the government has cut our pay by 31.7%, which means a doctor starts on £14 per hour.

‘And, now Sunak has imposed another real terms pay cut, adding to the long list of imposed conditions by the government over the last 13 years.

‘It’s no wonder that these imposed pay cuts, which we’ve not been consulted on, have led to massive waiting lists, shocking waiting times in A&Es and the collapse of morale in doctors.

‘After 15 days of strike action, the cost has been one billion pounds – that would have covered the cost of full pay restoration.

‘This just shows that Sunak is pursuing the ideology of trying to break hard-working doctors rather than any false pretence of the alleged unaffordability of a negotiated deal.

‘Doctors have a gritted determination to fight for full pay restoration. All we are asking is to reverse the cuts.’

Later, on Friday afternoon, Dr Laurenson was the opening speaker at a mass rally of junior doctors in Whitehall, opposite Downing Street, where he said: ‘We’ve been 15 days on strike and this government has wasted £1 billion that could have been used to solve this dispute. Our claim is based on fairness, justice and full restoration of pay.

‘£20 an hour is fair and reasonable and not much to ask for a doctor. You are worth it. For 15 years we’ve been told to wait. We are all in this together. They have told us lies.

‘We are standing up for ourselves and our future. And we will strike for another 15 days and another 15 days and another 15 days till they get the message.

‘We want pay restoration. Everyone here knows someone who has left for another country. Why are we not worth the same as other doctors in other countries.

‘We are leaders in medicine across the world and we should be paid for what we are worth. We have the highest clinical excellence here. The BMA has never been as strong as they are today for full pay restoration.’

Fellow co-chairman of the Junior Doctors Committee Vivek Trivedi, said: ‘Doctors should be valued for the work they do.

‘Sunak says strikes caused the waiting lists. This is government spin. We are apparently so valuable that we have caused all the waiting lists but we’re not valuable enough to be paid £20 an hour.

‘Many of us are £100,000 in debt. We are shipped across the country away from friends and family. Our dispute is far from over.

‘Sunak’s words are to break your resolve. He wants you to give up and accept another pay cut.

‘Do you want to give up or do you want to continue to fight?’ he asked, and he received a roaring response, before agreeing: ‘We must continue to fight, for ourselves and for our whole profession.

‘There is only one good thing about the situation, it has united the profession – junior doctors, consultants, SAS (Specialty and Specialist) doctors and GPs.’

Fellow Junior Doctors Committee Co-Chair, Dr Arjan Singh told the rally: ‘Doctors, thank you for attending our fifth rally. We’ve been forced into this. These are the days when doctors are starting to take back control of our profession.

‘Claps don’t pay the bills. We had to witness patients dying undignified deaths in ITU during the pandemic while they held illegal lockdown parties.

‘They responded with pay cuts. They called us NHS heroes while we are struggling to make ends meet, get on the housing ladder and have children.

‘We are not heroes, we sacrifice the best years of our life. You cannot run an NHS perpetually on a well of good will. We are not just fighting for us, but for the doctors to follow, in their hundreds of thousands.

‘£20 an hour is not an ask of largesse. The months ahead are going to be difficult. This is going to rumble on. If we fail it’s forever. We got a 98% record mandate.

‘But we need to keep the strong mandate to protect and restore a profession on its knees. Remind colleagues there’s a reballot going on.’

Penelope Osborne, junior doctor from Suffolk said: ‘I’ve been struggling to survive. It shouldn’t have to be like that. I’ve £33,000 debt from training. I work hard. I won’t be able to afford to keep my children and pay my rent. I’ve stabilised a little since last year but my salary hasn’t changed.

‘We need a decent increase to counteract the real terms pay cut we’ve suffered for years.’

Junior doctor Dr Tanmy Anand from Addenbrookes Hospital, Cambridge added: ‘We’re asking the government to restore our pay in line with inflation. Investing in staff and investing in doctors is the first step in restoring the NHS to a functional capacity.

‘Doctors have lost 31.5% of their pay over the last 15 years. This has led to a massive retention crisis. Doctors are leaving the NHS and leaving the profession.

‘There are complex reasons for this but ultimately we just want to work in a healthcare system that works for patients and allows us to give high quality care.’

Striking doctors spoke to News Line before and after the speeches at the rally.

Third year out-of-graduation GP trainee, Penelope Osborne said: ‘We need a decent increase to counteract the real terms pay cuts we’ve suffered for years.’

BMA West Midlands rep Dr Shivam Sharma said: ‘I’m concerned about the state of doctors’ pay. We’ve suffered a 31.7% pay cut over the past 15 years.

‘Doctors are leaving in droves. We have to pay fees for five to six years of medical school. Our starting pay is £14 an hour. Students have £100,000 of debt.

‘The £14 an hour is a little above the Minimum Wage. All we are asking for is £5-£10 an hour more so we can keep doctors. Too many are leaving for Australia where the pay and conditions are much better.

‘We’re speaking from a doctor’s point of view. I don’t think 6% is enough of a pay offer for teachers. We need to value all our public sector workers.’

Bex, a junior doctor from London, said: ‘It’s clear what everybody feels. We all want a fair deal for the NHS, giving patients the best care.

‘We’re striking to make the government fund the NHS and pay doctors a living wage. If we pay staff properly, we retain them which means better care for patients.’

Anna, a junior doctor from Surrey, added: ‘Doctors need to have a living wage. It’s too tempting to go elsewhere for better pay and conditions. We’ve had real terms pay cuts for the past 15 years.’

Dr Seb Dunne a first year after graduation junior doctor from Chelsea & Westminster Hospital, said: ‘I’m very sad because this year lots of my friends and colleagues who were very passionate about medicine have been leaving to start other careers.

‘That’s because they don’t feel valued in the NHS. Pay restoration is obviously the most important thing we are fighting for. Underfunding is hitting patient safety.

‘Consultants are covering for us when we are on strike. We’re very lucky we have such fantastic colleagues supporting us. A general strike would be very powerful. We need change.’

London locum Dr Funmi Abari said: ‘It’s important that we are treated fairly and our work and sacrifices are valued. More importantly, we should be remunerated for our work.

‘If you pay doctors fairly, you improve patient care. We’ve suffered a 23% pay cut over the last 8 years. All the trade unions should take action together, collectively at the same time. Unity is strength!’