‘WHOSE NHS? Our NHS!’ chanted over 150 junior doctors from east London hospitals at a lunchtime strike rally outside Hackney Town Hall on Thursday.
One of the doctors, Sandy, told the rally: ‘We’ve had tremendous support. The teachers and steel workers support us and we support them. I’m not striking for more money. I want funding for the NHS. I want fully-funded five-day services. Cameron said he was for quality first. We are employees of the government, of the NHS. We should be the ones that have the best contracts.’
Jeeves Wijessuriya told the rally: ‘I am a GP trainee on the Junior Doctors Committee and one of the negotiators. People ask why are you doing this (striking)? We have an obligation, not just to our profession. We have an obligation to our to our patients, to the NHS. The changes this contract will bring will be a national disaster. The government is ignoring the 98% vote by staff.
‘It is ignoring the Royal Colleges and the Patients Association warnings on patient safety. That’s why we’re petitioning, why we’re striking. We stand together with our colleagues. We must defeat what is fundamentally dangerous. This action is not over.’
Annette Watkins from Hoxton Unison said: ‘Support and solidarity for the NHS workers is general. What’s happening to you is happening to us. Doctors are being demonised and so are we all. Keep up the fight – we are absolutely behind you.’
Rob Murthwaite from Disabled People Against Cuts, said: ‘The government want to privatise the NHS. They want to privatise education and cut benefits. I hope you win. Osborne had to U-turn over his attack on the disabled and the despicable Iain Duncan Smith resigned. Everybody here who is not a junior doctor has a responsibility. They should be on the picket lines with the doctors.’
Junior doctor Sam Jerram told the rally: ‘I feel optimistic. It was a difficult decision to strike. But to hear bus drivers backing us made it clear it isn’t just about us. It’s about a service that is loved in this country. By continuing with this fight we are going to see the change that we want. We don’t just support the NHS, we are the NHS!’
Local GP Coral Jones said: ‘The Tory government is privatising the NHS. We need to put more pressure on Labour to make the NHS a priority. The Transformation Programme is being rushed in to privatise the NHS even more. People should go to their Clinical Commissioning Groups and say, “Why are you privatising our NHS?”’
Jeeves Wijessuriya told News Line on the sidelines of the rally: ‘The strikes have to continue because we have an obligation to protect our patients and our NHS as well as protecting our profession. The NHS is already understaffed, the new contract will drive more people away. The changes discriminate against women and they make gaps in the rota worse. The new contract will stretch doctors even more than they are already.
‘What we are seeing now is a threat to the whole NHS.
‘The same mishandling is being done with the teachers and we have an obligation to stand together. We are lucky that we have the support of the public and our peers from all different walks of life. Seeing so many others with us on the picket lines has served to remind us how important our fight is.’
BMA member Dhanuka Pereira told News Line: ‘The government need to start listening to the workers who work in the NHS. They deal with the day-to-day struggles in the NHS. They need to come to an agreement together, not impose an unsafe and unfair contract that will endanger patients. We are already struggling with a five-day routine service – to try to stretch that to seven days is not feasible with the current funding and workforce available. We’ve had tremendous public support. The other unions should take action, they should rally behind us to defend the NHS.’
BMA member Sally Keats said: ‘There is still a lot of support for junior doctors. There have been some changes in the contract but there’s a long way to go. What we need now is consistent pressure to get the government around the negotiating table again. We’ve had a lot of support from other unions. We’re all fighting the same fight – to defend our Welfare State and our public services.’
BMA member Mark Yates said: ‘I feel the idea of taking an existing workforce who are already stretched over five days and imposing on them to work for seven days with no extra resources is not only unfair but unsafe. It will make it even harder to get doctors to join training programmes and will heighten the existing employment crisis in the NHS. There need to be more strikes. We welcome other workers supporting us.’