A GOOD picket of junior doctors turned out at the Norfolk and Norwich hospital at 8am. They were in good spirits despite the wind and the rain.
Mid-morning a band came along with accordion, guitar and lead singer to entertain them and encourage a singalong. Off-duty firemen also came to show their support. Clinical fellow Dr Gurung told News Line: ‘How can you get a seven-day service with funding for five days? It’s not only doctors they are cutting down, it’s everything – and yet the government is promising seven days.
‘We’re already stretched in the current situation with lack of staff. They want to get the contracts changed for consultants and all NHS staff. They don’t show the detail of how they’re going to do it and it needs more money. We must defend our NHS. We don’t want a privatised system like in America.’
Dr James Rowson, BMA rep, said: ‘We hear talk from the RCN about possible strike action because unsocial hours are threatened. We are still very angry about the imposition of a newly released contract which will see unsafer working hours, reduced rates of pay, and inequality. This may see doctors leaving their jobs for better climes, piling more pressure on an already pressurised service.
‘This attack is not a standalone attack on an individual section of the workforce. It is systematic undermining of the service, starting with the doctors and is only a matter of time before allied health professionals will be similarly attacked. They are paving the way for privatisation. We need to get everyone involved. Every union should get together and defend our NHS, one of the best things about this country.’
Outside Maudsley Psychiatric Hospital on Denmark Hill, Andrew Howe, junior doctor said: ‘We are here again, for the fourth time because the government will not listen to doctors. The whole medical profession is telling them “this contract will not work”. You cannot have a seven-day NHS like they want. It already is a seven-day NHS anyway, so what are they talking about?
‘The final straw is the equality of the contract which the government has openly said “it will discriminate against women”, and that that is OK. I thought we were living in 2016 not the 1950s, so what is going on? It disgusts me! So that is why we are here protesting and we will keep going until we win.’
NUT Rep for Lambeth, Michael Holland, supporting the junior doctors at Maudsley and Kings College Hospitals, said: ‘The junior doctors’ fight against privatisation is the same fight we are facing in education – the privatisation of our schools. I would agree with lobbying the TUC to get a general strike. The old slogan, TUC Get Off Your Knees and Call a General Strike, is apt.
‘They need to do it because people on the ground – teachers on the ground, junior doctors on the ground, library workers on the ground, people all over the country – are absolutely desperate to fight back. We are beginning to get a bit off Corbyn who has taken Cameron on about off-shore tax havens, but we need an industrial strategy, to bring all the fights together and, yeah, organise together and call a general strike.
‘All this stuff about tax havens, the Icelandic prime minister resigning and Cameron coming under pressure to declare his tax returns, shows up in black and white what we have always suspected – that the rich just fleece us – constantly – every single day!
‘So much poverty, suffering, war and racism, it is obscene. I went down to Calais and taught refugees there. Brilliant people of such strength and courage despite everything they have been through, and a week later, David Cameron calls them “a bunch of migrants”. They have more integrity in the mud on their boots, than he has in his entire cabinet.’
Strikers were in a determined mood at the Royal Free Hospital, northwest London, as hospital workers and patients stopped to ask for badges and stickers. BMA rep Tom Urwin told News Line: ‘People are resilient. The tide is turning. The government’s mask has slipped with the publication of the details of the new contract. This explicitly explains their plans to disadvantage women in the workplace. We’re not going away. All the health secretary has to do is listen to our concerns.’
BMA member John Williams said: ‘The strike for me is against the denigration of the profession. It’s making politically-motivated change to move towards the privatisation of the NHS.’
Medical student and BMA member Craig Nunn joined the picket. He said: ‘I support the junior doctors completely. I’m against the imposed contract that does not put in place appropriate safeguards to promote patient safety.’ Patient Kiah Hann, a veterinary student, said: ‘I’m standing on the picket line with the junior doctors because they saved my life many times.’
Nurse Tamara Bellecchia stopped by the picket. She said: ‘I support the doctors. They work many hours here. In my country, Italy, the doctors can only work eight hours a day. When you work so many hours, it’s not safe for the patients and it’s not safe for the doctors. The government wants them to work even more hours. Other unions should take action with the junior doctors, everybody can do something.’
Nicola West BMA rep at North Middlesex Hospital told News Line: ‘We knew this was going to be an ongoing problem for the last three years. The government could see that we are getting in the way of their endgame which we believe is ultimately a step towards privatisation and making the workforce as cheap as possible so we intend to continue fighting this contract which we believe will be detrimental to patient safety and the wellbeing of the workforce and has now been understood to be discriminatory against women by the government’s own admission.’
Junior doctors were joined by Unison, council workers, supporters and consultants on the picket line at Whipps Cross Hospital in Walthamstow in east London. Passing motorists tooted their horns in support to cheers from the lively picket.
Dave Knight, retired Branch Secretary of Unison at Waltham Forest Council told News Line: ‘Unison have come down to give 100% full support to the junior doctors. We believe this is part of a wider strategy by the Tories to crush trade unions and attack pay and conditions. Unison has lots of members in the hospital and we should all come out to strike together.’
Rob Owen, a retired consultant who worked at Whipps Cross Hospital for 20 years, came to support the picket. He said: ‘Consultants support junior doctors. I agree with the escalation of the struggle.’
Niki Fitzgerald, BMA rep for the junior doctors at Whipps Cross Hospital, said: ‘I went to the trade council meeting on Tuesday night and asked for their support to call on the TUC to call for a national demonstration in support of the junior doctors to build up toward a general strike.
‘At the meeting, I linked up with the NUT teachers rep so that we can have meetings and in the future the possibility of joint strike action. When you take into consideration the wide spectrum of attacks on the public sector, multiple sections of the public sector have the right to call strike action.’
At the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel in east London, junior doctors came out to the side of the main road to mass-leaflet passers-by and win support from busy passing traffic.
Kathryn Greaves, a junior doctor specialising in anaesthetics, said: ‘We are out today in opposition to the imposition of the new contract in August, it is unfair and unsafe. The bigger picture is that this is part of the privatisation of the NHS. For elective surgery at the weekend you will need other staff – theatre staff and consultants. If they want us to work doing elective surgery at the weekends they will have to come for everyone else’s contracts too. This is the start and we have to stop the ball rolling before it even gets going.’
At the picket line outside Homerton Hospital, Angela Greenford, a Unison member and admin worker for bank staff at Homerton, said: ‘In our department it is very short-staffed in terms of medical staff. There need to be more doctors and nurses, as some people have to wait three or four hours to be seen because of the lack of staff. I support the junior doctors, I know how it is to work so many hours and so many days in a row.’
At Charing Cross Hospital striking junior doctor Yvette Anan told News Line: ‘I think it speaks volumes that for the first time the BMA is considering a full walkout in the history of the NHS. I think teachers and other workers should all walk out. This government doesn’t care about disabled or the working poor.’ Neeraj Kalra, first on the the picket line at Charing Cross Hospital, said: ‘I think a contract that discriminates against women is not fit for the 21st century.’
At Hammersmith Hospital junior doctor Fiona Crotty told News Line: ‘It’s horrifying that the government has acknowleged that discrimination against women and single parents is OK with them.’ Another striker James T said: ‘You can’t fund a 7-day NHS with a 5-day budget. We’re already working at full capacity.’
On a lively picket line at St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington, junior doctors Frances Rogerson and Sophie Clark told News Line: ‘We’ve got to continue the strike to challenge the misinformation that this is about a pay rise when we are actually fighting a pay cut. ‘We don’t want to do the same amount of work for a 30% pay cut. We are fighting for the future of the NHS healthcare system and want to make sure there are safeguards in place.’
At Northwick Park Hospital, Susanna Olsen, Dipti Hirani and Kaniseya Nadarasa, all BMA members, spoke to News Line together, saying: ‘We think the government needs to start listening to us. The public need to know that we are doing this for a fair contract and for long-term patient safety. There is no system like the NHS and we will do everything to save it, we are one profession and we stand together for our patients.’
Jo Evans from Northwick Park Cardiac Unit, who left her desk to join the doctors’ picket, said: ‘I used to work in Ealing Hospital. Our Cardiac Rehab Unit was lovely, with positive feedback from patients all the time. Patients loved it. It has been tendered out to the community now, with Imperial Healthcare taking up the contract.
‘Now we have no cardiac rehab in Northwick Park either. All the evidence shows that cardiac patients should be dealt with on the ward after the event. If it’s in the community a lot of patients don’t turn up for their appointments. I’m supporting the junior doctors because the whole dispute is about privatisation and the destruction of our NHS. They must win for all of us.’
At Ealing Hospital junior doctors set up their strike placards alongside the banner of the West London Council of Action, which holds a daily 7am-9am picket of the hospital against the planned closure of the Charlie Chaplin Children’s Ward and A&E in June. The Council of Action is holding a meeting for all trade unionists and local people at 7pm tonight at The Dominion Centre, The Green, Southall to discuss action to support the junior doctors and stop the closure of Ealing Hospital.
BMA member Helena Lendrum told News Line: ‘It’s essential for us to realise that this is a threat to the whole NHS.’ BMA member Mohammad Razai said: ‘The entire NHS management and clinical staff leaders are aware that the contract they are seeking to impose is not workable and will destroy the NHS.’
BMA member Ravi Ganepola began by speaking about Ealing Hospital, saying: ‘You hear rumours they are going to close parts of the hospital, like we heard rumours over maternity, and you assume that they know what they are doing and if they are closing they will make provision elsewhere, but then it closes and you realise that no provision has been made elsewhere.
‘Now we hear they are closing paediatrics in June and again you imagine they will make provision, but people are concerned, and rightly. The same applies to our contracts, people can’t believe they would be so irresponsible as to impose unworkable contracts on doctors.’
In the rain and wind, over 50 junior doctors massed with their supporters outside King’s College Hospital in south London. Teachers and library workers, pensioners, nurses and patients joined them on their picket line while across the road, there was a large picket of doctors from the Maudsley Psychiatric Hospital. Doctor Chris James said: ‘The strike going well and junior doctors’ resolve is building and the feeling that now is the time to do something more, that this struggle has to have a bigger impact.
‘There have to be other unions banding together, so people are coming out together. It has become a bigger question than just the junior doctors at this stage. It’s about people looking after themselves, the healthcare, the education of their children, housing, everything, because it seems that this government, what they are after is destroying everything and pulling everything down.
‘There needs to be a conscious decision from the public that enough is enough, and that we have to come together to defend the fundamental things in life, to come together and fight for it. We need to start thinking about general strikes and as a junior doctor I would support the lobby of the TUC to discuss that.’
Doctor Marianne Narona said: ‘We all need to stand together to defend our NHS. The government have got their paws on it.’ Annie Jones, from Carnegie Library in Lambeth which has been occupied and sent a delegation to the junior doctors’ picket, said: ‘We have to show our solidarity with the whole National Health team because the cuts to the NHS are affecting the doctors now and will impact on all of us in the future. The junior doctors fight is everybody’s fight. The cuts to the NHS are affecting the doctors but will come to affect us all. We have come from the well-loved Carnegie Library
‘They are making cuts to Carnegie Library, a library very beloved by all the locals, which children come to to get an education. It is a beautiful building, a place to socialise, and they want to turn it into a gym. So we are occupying at the moment and we have come down with our banner to show solidarity with the doctors.’
Junior doctor Joe Hetherington said: ‘What is so shocking in the contract is the blatant discrimination against women and the Department of Health has acknowledged that head on, saying it is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. If you are a woman, if you have children if you need childcare, it’s not our problem we need to plough on with their contract. It shows how little the government care about working people, and they want to steamroll through.
‘The bigger picture is the privatisation of the NHS. That’s their end and they will use whatever they can to get that. I think it is a tough week for the government. We should pile the pressure on them. The doctors, the teachers, the tax havens, the steel industry, we have to pile the pressure on them.’
At St George’s Hospital Tooting, Dr Andrew D’Silva, Cardiology Registrar, said: ‘There are so many factors to this contract that just make it dangerous for patients.’ About 100 pickets stood outside St. Thomas’ Hospital. Doctor Adjogatse said: ‘These new contract changes really try to turn back time. It will definitely have a negative impact on patient safety and also on recruitment and retention of staff.’
At Rotherham District General Hospital, surgeon trainee Miran Panchania said: ‘Consideration has to be given to the words of the proposed contract. It states, “We consider that the proposed payments are fair, and that any adverse effect on women is a proportionate means of addressing a legitimate aim.” It adds women doctors who have childcare commitments “should try to obtain unpaid childcare from friends or family”.’
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