Massive doctors picket lines –answer the Cameron-Hunt threats

Unison leader PRENTIS with delegates from the Unison Health Conference joined the picket line at the Brighton General Hospital yesterday
Unison leader PRENTIS with delegates from the Unison Health Conference joined the picket line at the Brighton General Hospital yesterday

THE TUC must organise a national day of action in support of the junior doctors’ dispute and our NHS, the Public and Commercial Services union said yesterday.

The union’s general secretary Mark Serwotka wrote to the TUC yesterday afternoon to ask that the proposal is discussed at this morning’s general council meeting. The general council is the TUC’s ruling body. Yesterday morning hundreds of Unison delegates joined a march from the Brighton conference centre to join junior doctors on their picket line at Brighton General Hospital. The march was called by Brighton and Hove trades council and Sussex Defend the NHS. Delegates from the Unison Health Conference joined with other trades unions and community groups on a lively picket line outside the hospital.

Dave Prentis, Unison General Secretary, spoke and brought greetings on behalf of Unison. Local BMA rep and junior doctor Todd Leckie addressed the rally. He said: ‘Jeremy Hunt does not care about us and he does not care about the NHS. This is why we are on strike today, we do this with a heavy heart. If we do not oppose this contract we will not be able to care for our patients in the future. ‘That is why thousands of us are on strike today.’

He went on to thank Unison for their support and said a special thanks to the consultants inside who were covering for them. Speaking from the 200-strong picket outside Kings College Hospital, London, Dr Jack Granville in Respiratory medicine said: ‘I’m here on the picket line at King’s College Hospital oppposing the damaging, unsafe and unfair contract that Jeremy Hunt is wishing to impose on junor doctors.

‘I also want to oppose the government’s austerity agenda, cuts and privatisation.

‘The NHS in its current form is already struggling. King’s A&E Department had its worst winter ever. There were many unsafe situations created. The hospital was struggling to discharge people, with no beds in which to admit people.

‘That is a result of the government’s decimation of the social care budget due to cuts to councils, and is the consequence of the government attitude to health and social care.

‘People are losing their lives. I would support co-ordinated strike action by other unions if they were willing to engage with us. This government is a disaster for this country.’

Dr David Herbert said: ‘I’m a junior doctor, two years working for the NHS and I have seen conditions get worse and worse, not just for doctors, but nurses, health care assistants, phlebotomists, absolutely everyone, and for patients. We are all working under extreme pressure at the moment and this contract will make a situation which is barely manageable untenable in the future, so I am here striking for better conditions.

‘We need to retain talent and staff in this country. We need to value the staff properly, keep them happy and working for the NHS. I think this government is being childish. How can we have an elected government supposedly working for the good of this country, but who are refusing to engage with the wider body of doctors who work on the front line and who know what it is like to be on a ward at 3.00am, doing their best for their patients. I don’t understand how our elected representatives can behave this way. It is beyond reproach really.’

Dr Patrick said: ‘It is really a shame that the other unions like Unison and Unite have been so tentative in their commitment. The sea of opinion might change even more when the public realise that this strike action today – with the full walkout – won’t be to the detriment of people’s health.

‘It will be impossible to undo privatisation. Utterly impossible. The Labour Party should be rallying the unions and rallying the public. The Tories are getting away with absolute murder and it is left down to us and the public to drive the momentum. We really need more help and we need to get other sections of workers involved.’

Dr Benedict said: ‘I can’t imagine a whole body of doctors around the country all signing up to mass resignation as the next step. I personally think an indefinite walkout is the way forward. We need an option that brings the country to a standstill and that has a big ongoing effect. If we have a strike for 48 hours the consultants can come on board, and work harder to keep it going. If we have an indefinite walkout then great things can be achieved, and the Conservative government might be forced back to the negotiating table.”

Dr Colin Coulter said: ‘I am increasingly convinced that privatisation of the NHS is the goal here. Even today at The Royal College of Physicians, there were about 25 CEOs from private healthcare providers meeting to discuss the future of our healthcare. The narrative of our struggle needs to go bigger, because this is something that is going to affect radiographers, porters and everyone in the NHS.’

A large picket of over 50 doctors manned the picket line outside St George’s Hospital in Tooting. David Thompson, a surgical trainee, said: ‘Two people could have stopped this strike, Cameron and Hunt, but they chose not to.’

Sophie Herbert, junior doctor in General Medicine, said: ‘Hunt has refused to talk to junior doctors in public which seems very suspect. We believe he wouldn’t have a leg to stand on when confronted with the truth. He has failed to listen to our concerns that the contract will harm patients and instead he is just repeating his government’s spin and propaganda.

‘The government is hell-bent on destroying the NHS, which will do very real harm to patients. Hunt should drop the imposition of the contract and return to negotiate to the caring professions.’

Seema Jain, junior doctor at St George’s, said: ‘Safety is not being compromised while the strike is on. We have tried everything else. The government says the strike is political. Well it is political because the government is imposing a contract that will harm patient care. We are being treated like children.’

At St Thomas’ Hospital Sian Ashby, GP trainee, said: ‘We are quite determined we don’t want to work under this new contract. It affects staffing numbers and gender discrimination. We are not being listened to by the government. We have the support of nurses, physiotherapists and all the other health professions.

‘The PFI and the Health and Care Act, all these are pushing the NHS into privatisation.

James Connor, a GP who came down to London from Banbury to join the picket said: ‘I am here to voice our general concerns that the NHS is being run into the ground in order to justify privatisation.

‘We have the best, most efficient and most equitable healthcare system in the world.

‘This TTIP agreement will badly affect the health service. The government is intent on attacking the poorest and most vulnerable in society. This government has picked a fight with so many people that opposition is growing.’

At Northwick Park Hospital, where 200 pickets turned out, Sarah Krrar said: ‘I have been nine years a junior doctor and was six years a medical student. I have seen the deterioration of the service we have provided over the last five years because of the cuts. Cuts have coincided with a massive increase in demand for the service.

‘Last year, 30% to 40% of patients that I looked after were in hospital for social rather than medical reasons. They came into hospital initially for medical reasons, and they can’t go home because the care is not there. The NHS needs resources. There are massive staff and bed shortages, the current staff have worked flat out to keep the service afloat. Jeremy Hunt coming along and alienating the work force is complete madness. To imply that we are the barrier to expanding services is offensive.”

Junior doctor Elvis Adams said: ‘Jeremy Hunt has to back down. I hope 50,000 striking junior doctors outweighs the will of one man.’

Dr Jenny Abthorpe said: ‘Over 70,000 operations are cancelled every year because of lack of funding or beds. They only quote how many operations hae been cancelled on the day of our strike. On Christmas Day and bank holidays, hospitals have the same cover as the previous junior doctors strike days, however no one complains.

‘We are fighting for the future. We know what will happen in future if this contract goes through. We are not asking for a single penny extra on pay. I work seven nights and two weekends every four weeks. I don’t want to work more weekends or night shifts. Doctors’ mental and physical health is worse than it has every been. What type of NHS and what type of doctors so we want in the future?’

Junior doctors Kate Felton (paediatrics) and Jacob Ellis (child psychology) spoke to News Line amidst an animated group with strong opinions. Jeremy Hunt says that we are a block to a seven-day working contract. If you really want elective options at weekends then you need nurses and other staff as well. Can we afford that? We already work seven days!

‘We have an overwhelming lack of confidence in Hunt. He has shown no insight into the way the NHS works and his attitude is insulting to our intelligence. He cannot even say what seven-day working means; it is not sorted and no-one knows. Our union has, on the other hand, been very clear: if you stop the imposition then we will negotiate.

‘He has rejected a very fair offer from our union. How do you even model a contract when you don’t even know how many doctors you have got? There is already a massive loss of talent as people come up for retirement, leaving massive holes in the service, all aggravated by this imposition, which will make new doctors leave.

‘It costs a great deal of public money to train a junior doctor! We are trying to get Hunt to listen to us. Other unions have supported us. Unison has offered support because of pressure on public services, and the teachers have marched with us because of the imposition of academies. We are the first profession specifically targeted by the government. If we fail, then the floodgates open for other sections to be targeted.’

‘It’s ridiculous to impose a contract that compromises patient safety and puts further strain on an already stretched NHS,’ BMA rep  Raj Shah told News Line on a lively picket line outside the Royal Free Hospital, northwest London.

Junior doctor Sofia Haddart said: ‘It’s a sad day that it’s come to this. We’ve tried a long time to avert this day but the government has left us with no choice.’

Nurse Kat Booth joined the picket line. She said: ‘I fully support these guys. I feel if the government imposes these contracts on the junior doctors, then nurses and all ancillary hospital workers will end up having their pay cut, working more hours and less flexible working time.’

BMA member Miles Gandolfi said: ‘Our strike is a protest against a contract the government is trying to impose. It’s something my colleagues and myself feel strongly about for a number of reasons. It’s not going to be fair for the doctors who would end up working much longer hours. You’d end up losing your extra pay for weekends. The contract already recognises it is unfair to female doctors, which is pretty shocking.’

BMA member Alison Berner added: ‘What we are doing today is really important for patient safety. We want a contract that’s safe for patients and safe for doctors to work in. It’s very sad it’s come to this and hopefully today will show the government how important this is and they will reconsider and come back to the negotiating table.’

On a well attended picket line at Barnet hospital Dr Amy Bowes told News Line: ‘At present I work in medicine for the elderly in my first year of training and it was disappointing to start my career in such a position and to have a health minister so insistent on imposing an unfair contract.

‘Although today has been very unfair for all of us we feel we’ve been backed into a corner and have no choice but to fight.We’re pleased our consultants are supporting us and patients will continue to receive a high standard of care.’

Katie Knight, BMA member on big picket at North Middlesex Hospital, told News Line: ‘Hunt has been wilfully ignoring all our efforts to speak to him. He’s ignored a cross-party attempt to form a last minute resolution and it’s as if he’s goading us into taking this action – he’s backed us into a corner. I think we need some assistance from the TUC. We appreciated the support we had on the last March particularly.’

Whipps Cross Hospital BMA rep Niki Fitzgerald told News Line: ‘We think very carefully about taking strike action. In our job we fill out risk assessments everyday. We have done our work on the risk assessment for this strike and have come to the conclusion that the risk to our future patients is higher than the risk put to patients during this current strike.’

Junior doctors Anita Chan said: ‘We are fighting for the future of the NHS. That is the essence of the message we are putting across. As a whole the service needs more staff, more resources, more funding before we are spread any thinner. Teachers, ambulance workers and other public service workers are fighting for the same thing and we should come out together.’

Martin Goodsell brought the East London, Unite Community banner, he said: ‘We support the junior doctors 100%. We are community activists engaged in housing and anti-eviction campaigns and against zero-hours contract employers.

‘All these campaigns must come together. The teachers and doctors should come out on strike together. We need an all-out NHS strike. This is about the unions working together to resist rivatisation and co-ordinate actions and strikes.’ Len Weiss, chair of the Unison Waltham Forest retired members branch, said: ‘We are here to support the junior doctors on their picket line.

The fight for the NHS and to keep it fair and safe is too important to give up,’ said Hammersmith Hospital junior doctor Julia Prague on the picket line yesterday.

Julia added: ‘All we get from Hunt is the same rhetoric.’ Natasha Rinne, a maternity services junior doctor at Queen Charlotte’s Hospital in Hammersmith, told News Line: ‘I was hoping to wake up this morning to hear that the strike had been cancelled, but instead woke up to hear health secretary Hunt telling the nation that the junior doctors are bullies. But to have a contract that is not safe for workers and patients imposed upon us shows us that the only bully is him.’

At Charing Cross Hospital in Hammersmith junior doctors were joined on the picket line by a group of consultants. Andy Forester, an orthopaedic consultant, said: ‘This truly is everyone’s fight. If this contract is imposed then everyone else will be next, from nurses to cleaners and other staff.’

Striking Charing Cross junior doctor Neeraj Kalra told News Line: ‘Hunt’s failure to negotiate shows just what sort of minister he is – he has lost the trust of the workforce. It’s just a backdoor attempt at privatising the NHS. Consultants can cover for a few days but if we escalate the action they won’t be able to cope.’

Ann Sturdy, an acute medicine junior doctor said: ‘Since I became a junior doctor four years ago we’ve always been short of beds, short of equipment and short of staff.

‘We regularly work two people’s jobs because there are not enough of us and this contract will make that much worse. At the moment we’re struggling to manage a routine service over the weekends.’

At the Chelsea & Westminster Hospital junior doctor in oncology, Ramya Ramaswami said: ‘The voice of 54,000 junior doctors is not being heard by this government who want to impose ideas that suit only a few people.’

At Ealing Hospital the striking doctors set up their picket alongside the West London Council of Action’s daily picket which is fighting against the closure of the Charlie Chaplin children’s ward and all children’s A&E services on 30th June.

Striking BMA member Donna Arya said: ‘We feel strongly that future generations should not have to work in an unsafe NHS. I appreciate that other unions are with us and support our fight.’

A&E doctor and BMA member Veronica Jones spoke about imminent planned cuts at Ealing Hospital, saying: ‘I think not having a paediatric A&E is of real concern because children will be turning up and if it is an emergency then they will have to be transferred to Northwick Park, which will lead to unnecessary delays which could be very dangerous.

‘There’s a lady here from the NUT and she agrees that we are all in the same fight.’

NUT member Sally Hackney said: ‘I think the TUC should call a general strike. This government is privatising all the professions and it has to be stopped.’

Trainee barrister Adam Marley joined the picket, saying: ‘The Tories want to pick off different sections, it’s a typical tactic, divide and conquer. The junior doctors must be joined by the whole trade union movement, they can’t sack everyone in the whole country. I would love a general strike, everyone out together.’

BMA striker Charlotte Bryant said: ‘The new contract would put patients at risk. There’s an expectation that there will be a seven-day NHS without more resources. In fact the doctors are already working seven days. We’ve shown a lot of unity in this struggle and we will carry on until we succeed in preventing the imposition of this discusting contract.’