Leeds hospital staff angered by new government contract
Doctors strike action outside LGI
Outside the Jubilee Wing at Leeds General Infirmary on Wednesday, a crowd of doctors, nursing and hospital staff gathered at the picket lines with their banners to protest over a new contract that would redefine weekend and evening working to not count as anti-social hours.
Nearly 3,000 operations have been cancelled as junior doctors in England begin a second 24-hour strike.
Appointments, check-ups, and tests are also set to be disrupted as a result of the walkout, which began at 8am.
In January, formal talks broke down and there is mounting speculation ministers may soon seek to impose a new contract, potentially inflaming the row further.
The key sticking point appears to be payments for working on Saturdays, but doctors in Leeds voiced that it was also due to the fact that they felt that the NHS was being dismantled before their eyes.
Junior doctor Kavi Fantania said: “I work for Leeds Teaching Hospital. I’m striking today because the Tories are refusing to negotiate. They want us to treat Saturday like a weekday, when we work 24/7 already.
“We’re overtired and the government are looking to remove safeguards that will mean we have to work over 100 hours a week, which is unsafe for both the doctors and the patients.”
Dr Hatel Patel said: “I’m not just striking about the anti-social hours. It’s more than that. It seems like the government want to dismantle the NHS. Nurses have had their bursaries taken away from them. We are forced to work in understaffed conditions.”
Another protestor said: “Who’s to blame? Is it the greedy nurses? Or lazy GPs? Immigrants? Or maybe it's our corrupt, discredited, wilfully self-isolating politicians.”
British Medical Association junior doctor leader Johann Malawana said the government should not force a contract on doctors and should “put [the] NHS before politics, patients before machismo”.
He continued: “Last weekend, thousands of us took to the streets of London and Bristol to show that our fight for a properly negotiated contract continues.
“Today, we raise our voices again, on hundreds of picket lines across England.”
Dr Phil Atkinson, 32, from Bramhope, is a junior doctor working in anaesthetics. He said: “There has been a lot of misconception about the level of cover that is being provided on the strike.
“To put it in perspective, it’s exactly the same level of medical cover that’s present on a bank holiday. For example, when we had the Royal Wedding back in 2011, a public bank holiday was declared and –actually - on the strike day there will be a slightly better level of medical cover present than in the Royal Wedding in 2011 because GP services will be open.
He continued: “The insinuation that this is dangerous and that lives are being put at risk because of the strike is, quite frankly, laughable.
“This was deemed entirely safe to create a bank holiday for a wedding. There will be significant disruptions because there will need to be cancellations of planned operations and planned outpatient appointments to free up consultants to do some of the extra work in relation to emergency cover, but effectively this is not dangerous.”
Dr Faraaz Bhatti, a registrar in emergency medicine, said: “Today's announcement that the government is imposing a contract on junior doctors is the sign of a government far removed from the people. Doctors in this country dedicate their careers to a health service free at the point of care. We aim to deliver a high quality service that always puts patients first.
“Jeremy Hunt is a politician and what we have seen today is political spin at its best. Doctors have seen through this from the very beginning, as have other healthcare professionals and we are fortunate to have the majority of the public behind us.
“By enforcing a contract, Jeremy Hunt has lost all credibility. The British Medical Association and the NHS will be present long after his political career ends and history will judge him as the Tory MP who led to an unsafe and uncertain health service.
“His failure to remain apolitical in a debate about a public service only shows that Jeremy Hunt's primary concerns are his party's wider ambitions. Junior doctors work full-time with the people, and provide 24/7 care.
“Jeremy Hunt works for a political party and does not dedicate his life to a greater and stronger NHS. So you decide who is right. Is it over 60, 000 doctors across England or is it Mr Hunt?
“We now look forward to an era of uncertainty as the BMA rightly rejects the contract in their reaction to the imposition. Mr Hunt has safely ensured that an unfair contract on doctors will indeed be unsafe for patients. The NHS and its future are now uncertain.”
Previously, David Cameron has warned in an interview that junior doctors could be forced to accept the new contract if an agreement is not reached voluntarily.