MASS picket lines packed with enthusiastic doctors and supporters were the rule in every part of the country yesterday on the first day of the junior doctors strike action against the Tories’ attempt to dictate their contracts.
Commenting on the strike Dr Johann Malawana, BMA Junior Doctors Committee chair, said: ‘With junior doctors attending more than 150 pickets and ‘meet the doctor’ events up and down England, today’s action sends a clear message to Jeremy Hunt and David Cameron. Junior doctors in their thousands have made it quite clear what they think of the government’s plans to impose contracts in which junior doctors have no confidence.
‘Today’s action – one that the BMA has long sought to avoid – is a result of a fundamental breakdown in trust with junior doctors, for which the government is directly responsible. This has only been made worse by yesterday’s last minute, inept and heavy-handed attempts to bully junior doctors, lawfully taking industrial action, back into work.’
He continued: ‘We want a contract that is safe for patients, fair for juniors and good for the NHS. This is not the view of a few – as the government would have the public believe, the unprecedented scale of today’s action by junior doctors clearly demonstrates this.’
Junior doctors were out picketing at Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital from 8.00am. They got a very warm response from NHS staff and patients. James Rowsen, the BMA representative and a first year junior doctor, told News Line: ‘Over the winter period the government and the BMA via ACAS met up regularly, to try and discuss a contract that would be safe and fair for junior doctors for the time to come.
‘However, the negotiations and the discussions were not concluded in the way we had anticipated or intended for the BMA. There were still elements of the negotiations regarding the safeguarding of hours and continuation of training, and annual increments of pay and annual incomes throughout the career. There’s still a lot to be worked on by those parties.
‘I think today’s demonstration should show the fact that we are very serious about what we mean, and the government would be stupid not to back down. It almost feels like the junior doctors are a trial run. No junior doctor wants to strike. Today we really need to strike, to be out here showing how serious, how important it is to the country and to the NHS as a whole, all of our patients in the future, to ourselves and our careers, to show we actually care about what’s going to happen to us next.
‘Other trade unions have been overwhelmingly supportive. Today we have got support from Unison. I know that there are others on board. We are overwhelmingly pleased that there are trade unions in support of us, and we fully support them as well.’
Over 50 doctors rallied outside Lewisham Hospital yesterday in a lively picket on the first of three days of strike action. Drivers tooted their horns as they drove by in support. News Line spoke to junior doctor Matthew Izett who said: ‘We want a contract that provides safe care and where we’re not overworked.
‘The proposed changes are unsafe for patients, doctors and the NHS as a whole. The contract amounts to an attack on all public sector workers. He added: ‘It will be junior doctors today, nurses tomorrow, and then all public sector workers.’
Dr Josh Cuddihy told News Line: ‘The NHS is stretched as it is. It needs more funding and additional resources. The NHS runs on the goodwill of staff and we need to look after the staff. The government’s proposed changes are unsafe and unfair. It means more unsociable hours and it is very short sighted. We already work long shifts and these changes will make things more dangerous for everyone.’
Junior doctors were also out in force outside the Royal Free Hospital. BMA Junior Doctors Committee member Tom Irwin told News Line: ‘We’re here because the government forced us into this position. A ballot of our members showed 98% of us support the action today. The government are taking risks to save money.
‘That will make it harder to do a good job in the NHS. It will damage the public perception of the NHS and affect patient safety. If the new contract goes through it will have a far worse effect on patient safety than any industrial action.’
BMA member Tom Palmer said: ‘One of the main sticking points of the contract issue is they want to remove safeguards against us working long, unsafe hours. Obviously, tired doctors make mistakes. You wouldn’t get on a plane flown by a pilot whose employer made him work unsafe hours. Us working long hours is just as dangerous.
‘The government are not listening, so we have to fight on behalf of everyone. This is one step in privatising the NHS. We can’t afford to lose the NHS. Other unions should take action with the junior doctors. Nurses are very supportive but we need all the unions on board.’
John, an anaesthetist, said: ‘We all support the strike. Every one of us is a bit concerned about the future. This is about patient safety, it’s about defending safe working conditions.’
Another picket, BMA member Sophie Tang, said: ‘I’m out today to oppose the imposition of the contract. It’s trying to spread a thin workforce even thinner. It’s not safe for the patients and it’s not fair for the doctors working. We’ve had a lot of support from the nurses and allied health professionals who work alongside us. A lot of junior doctors think behind this is the government’s intention to privatise the NHS.’
RCN student nurse member Andy Roy said: ‘I’m a classic bursary student. I’m nearly 40 and without the bursary scheme there is no way I could become a nurse. We’re supporting the junior doctors because they stand by us and we stand by them.
‘As has been put, we all need to stand together. This is an attack on the NHS as a whole. The fact that the government is targeting doctors and student nurses is just the tip of the iceberg. They want to make the NHS fail so they can privatise it.’
Natasha, a striking junior doctor at UCLH in Euston Road, told News Line: ‘In 2005 Hunt wrote a book in which he said the Health Service should not be free and this is part of his plan to sell off the Health Service. I don’t trust the government and Hunt. I can’t remember the last time I saw him talk to a junior doctor – he chooses to talk over Twitter and other social media.
‘We stood with the nurses in their demonstration to keep grants on Saturday and we have written support from the FBU firefighters’ union. On 10 February our strike will be full withdrawal of labour but we hope it doesn’t come to that.’
On the picket line at Hallamshire Hospital in Sheffield junior doctor Sam Meadows said: ‘This is a strike that had to come, we have been headed into a corner – but it is for the benefit of the NHS. The government’s proposals are not safe for patients and not fair to the doctors. The support of the public has been overwhelming. It’s very heart-warming and we really appreciate it. Negotiations will start again tomorrow hopefully. But if it comes to more action we are prepared and we are ready.’
Mr Alex Rossdeutsch, a junior neuro surgeon at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital, said: ‘This proposed contract will cause many of my colleagues to leave the NHS. When that happens, the goverment will privatise the NHS and the public will have to pay for their health. I’m striking to prevent that, to prevent the government attacking the health service in the future.’
At Ealing Hospital, where junior doctors set up their picket alongside the West London Council of Action’s daily picket, workers spoke out in favour of an all-out general strike on the third junior doctors strike on February 10th. Bus driver and Unite member Sunny Patel said: ‘I support the junior doctors 100%. This government is taking liberties now in every way. A general strike to support them is what we need.’
Bus driver and Unite member Abdi Mohamed said: ‘I support everyone coming out on February 10th and I will fight for it at my garage. Everyone needs the National Health Service and the junior doctors are leading the fight to defend it.’
Striking junior doctor Sean Morris said: ‘Ealing Hospital must not close, or be downgraded, and maternity must be re-opened. There are three strike days and the duration and intensity will increase, the tube workers are taking strike action on our next strike date. This government is attacking public sector workers and everyone should take action to defend the Welfare State.’
Foodworker John Fernandez said: ‘My wife is a patient here, we need a general strike to win this fight.’ Striking doctor Alex Adams said: ‘The government are stretching the NHS and putting patients’ lives at risk, we must win this fight.’
Striking doctor Maira Hamed said: ‘Today’s action is not just for the junior doctors, it’s for the NHS as a whole and everyone should take action to defend it.’ Anna Martin, a GP who was coming in to provide emergency cover, stopped to drop off food at the picket line and said: ‘I’m so proud and with them 100%. This contract is incredibly unsafe and detrimental to patient care. I trained at Ealing Hospital and I feel particularly passionate about this hospital which is under threat. I support the call for a general strike on 10th February, it’s the only way to show we won’t accept what the government is doing.’
‘All anti-social hours payments are in jeopardy!’ Unison member Kirth Gerson, who works in Pathology, told News Line on the junior doctors picket of Homerton Hospital in Hackney, east London. Unison and the NUT came down to join the junior doctors’ mass picket and to support their strike.
‘I am out here to support the junior doctors because they will be coming for us next,’ Gerson continued: ‘This is Agenda for Change. They want to extend our normal working hours from 6am until 10pm Monday to Sunday! This is why Unison have come down to the picket today and this is why there must be joint strike action.
‘They were going to build a new Pathology Lab at Homerton using a company called Longcross Construction. The contract went belly-up and is now in administration, the project has been abandoned. Private Canadian company Sonic Health Care now owns doctors’ laboratories within the NHS. They do tests for us here at Homerton and at the Royal Free in Hampstead and the UCLH in Euston.
‘The company want to introduce co-payment for the laboratory tests which would mean the patient would have to part pay for their own blood tests! This is totally unacceptable, the NHS must be free, we pay for it through our taxes anyway. We have to drive these private companies out of the NHS.’
Oliver Corke, of the NUT, who came down from Clapton Girls School to support the junior doctors said: ‘We wholeheartedly support the working conditions which uphold patient safety. That is why we support the strike. Patients need to be looked after and doctors need to be looked after as well.’
At the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel, east London, there was a mass picket with well over 50 supporters, members of other unions and junior doctors. Junior doctor Fiona Hansell said: ‘The massive support that we have had today just goes to show that we have gauged the mood very well. It is not just the medical unions that have come down to support us, but the non-medical unions are here as well. We have started the fight and the public will join the fight and so we have started a whole movement.’
Junior doctor Jessica Gale added: ‘The NHS staff are used to working in a multi-disciplinary fashion. We are all one NHS so we will all stand up for each other in support of the NHS. There has been no other option but to take strike action so that is what we are doing.’
Dr Hannah Marshal, working in Paediatrics, agreed. ‘This has been an absolutely last resort’ she said. We have to be united. This contract which the government is trying to impose on us is unsafe, it is not in the interests of patients, doctors or the NHS. Currently, if we work more than our rostered hours we flag it up and the Trust is fined. With the new contract this safeguard is removed.’
Aimay Mirdin, who is to become a Consultant in May, said: ‘I have been a junior doctor for the last 15 years. Essentially, I have been doing weekends and I have been doing nights. Junior doctors are the backbone of the NHS and a sure way to lose junior doctors is to make them work longer hours and to work harder. The number of times I have been on my fourth nightshift and I am so tired. I have almost fallen asleep at the wheel on my way home.’
There was a lively picket of junior doctors at Barnet Hospital. Dr Matteo De Martino, the BMA rep, told News Line: ‘I have been an obstetrics and gynaecology trainee doctor for four years and will be for a total of at least nine years. None of us wants to be here, it’s not something we feel 100% comfortable about but we recognise we have to do it.
‘If this contract is enforced then the only choice is to leave medicine or leave the country. No matter how much we love our job it is unfeasible and unsafe to provide a safe five-day, let alone seven-day service with extended hours, a 30% pay cut and no hours safeguards. The first line of attack is to drive doctors away, next create a vacuum for nurses and midwives by removing bursaries.
‘As the NHS becomes understaffed and overwhelmed the only workable option presented will be privatisation. It would be wonderful to have the support of other unions and many have already shown this.’
Simon Roth, a Consultant Paediatrician from the Baby Unit, came to give his support to the picket line. He told News Line. ‘I support the junior doctors’ action. The contract the government is seeking to impose is obscure and cynical, in keeping with their approach to undermining the NHS.’
Junior doctors held a very lively picket at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital where passers-by queued to sign their petition of support. Junior doctor William Hall told News Line: ‘I never thought I would strike, I’ve just finished an 80-hour week, this is my day off but it is so important to be here.’ Another junior doctor, Laura McGowan, said: ‘We are being asked to compromise too much of patient safety with this imposed contract.”
”Patients are right behind us, everyone is stopping to sign our petition to show their support,’ said junior doctor Owen Dineen. ‘We also have a lot of junior doctors leafleting and meeting the public at South Kensington Tube station, he said.
Car horns beeped in support of the junior doctors picket line outside Charing Cross Hospital on Fulham Palace Road. Desire Craneburough came to support the picket line and told News Line: ‘Junior doctors have been caring for patients since the start of the NHS and they’re not striking for money but for improved patient care.
‘They are here for us 365 days a year, day in day out, now I’m giving them my support. The Tories are breaking up the NHS with privatisation and we have to stop them.’
Doctors and supporters marched down Denmark Hill 50-strong, on the first day of the three days of strikes planned by the BMA to prevent Jeremy Hunt from imposing a contract which would destroy their conditions of work and the NHS.
Chris James, BMA Junior Doctors’ Representative at King’s College Hospital, said: ‘I don’t think there is any reason why we can’t come out on top in this struggle really. It’s a just cause we are fighting for. We are fighting for the future of the NHS. We are fighting against contracts that are unfair, unsafe and are starting to erode our NHS, which is free care for all and which is the right thing to happen.
‘We have the support of the public. They are behind us. We have to win this struggle, there isn’t any other option. The nurses are next. They led a magnificent march on Saturday, which I was at. The nurses are feeling it and I think that is going to filter through to the rest of the NHS as well.’
Asked if he thought that the rest of the unions should come out in a general strike in support of the junior doctors, James said: ‘I think if that is what it takes, and that is where it is going then “Yes”.’ Dr Fiona Humphries said: ‘We don’t want to strike for striking’s sake, but this government has shown its true colours, and that is something that we can’t stand for.
‘If that’s the route we have to go down ultimately – to essentially safeguard our society for future generations – then absolutely! We are here to fight contracts that are not safe and not fair. The government has got it wrong and has lost the trust of NHS employees.
‘We are here to protect the future of the NHS, because these contracts undermine the future of the NHS. I really hope Hunt capitulates. It is really sad that it has come to this that we have had to leave our patients’ in the capable hands of our consultants and come out here on strike. It’s a really difficult time’.
Dr Tom Pollak, Research Lecturer at Maudsley Hospital in Camberwell, which specialises in mental health, said: ‘I think this government has been showing a lot of disdain for the electorate, and the junior doctors contract is just one of the ways they have done that.’
Dr Roxanne Keynejad, also out on the picket line added: ‘We are all junior doctors employed by south London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust. We are all trainee psychiatrists and we, as one profession, are striking on a mandate by the whole junior doctor community in England over the contract that is threatened to be imposed on us in August of this year which is unsafe and unfair for patients.’
Pickets were out at St George’s Hospital in Tooting where banners were brought by Wandsworth NUT and Battersea and Wandsworth Trades Council. Junior doctors went out to campaign at Tooting Broadway underground station where they received overwhelming support.
Dr Sophie Herbert told News Line: ‘We are here because the government has ignored what we have said in negotiations and are threatening to impose a dangerous contract on us. We are understaffed and overworked and are already at breaking point.
‘I want to be able to tell my grandchildren that I fought to save the NHS. Joanne Harris, Unite Branch Secretary at Putney Bus Garage, who was there in support, told News Line: ‘Doctors deserve every bit of support they can get. The way the government is threatening them is appalling. The government has created this problem but then blames people when they go on strike.’
At St Thomas Hospital, by Westminster Bridge, there were 200 people picketing. A delegation of Nursing and Midwife students were there from Kings College. Mary Brown, a nursing student, told News Line: ‘We are here because we support the junior doctors. They have been very supportive of us in our struggles and, as professionals, we all work together.’ Dan Langley, another student, said: ‘If the Tories can upset some of the most conservative workers in the country, hopefully it will inspire others to fight against Tory austerity.’
At Northwick Park Hospital in Harrow there were 200 junior doctors on the picket lines.
Dr Attia Rehman said: ‘This new contract is completely unfair. If I was to do an on-call shift, I would get unsocial hours pay, but now they are treating it as an ordinary day which will mean a huge pay cut.’
Alex Thomson, a Northwick Park consultant, came to join the picket line. ‘I am fully behind the junior doctors. We also have a problem with our contract and the offer is going to a vote of the consultants. The future of the NHS is at stake.’
At North Middlesex Hospial about 40 docors and supporters picketed, and local junior doctor Jason said: ‘This is the first strike in 40 years, and of course doctors come from all political parties, and 98% of tens of thousands of doctors voted for this action. The contract on offer is unfair for doctors because it is asking them to work more unsocial hours for less pay, and it’s unfair for patients and public because the safeguards that stop us working long hours are being eroded. With the support of the public we will win!’