Royal London junior doctors join picket line in protest against new contract

Royal London Hospital Picket Line. Photograph: Barts Junior Doctors
Royal London Hospital Picket Line. Photograph: Barts Junior Doctors

Junior doctors and campaigners gathered outside Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel this morning for the first all-out strike in the history of the NHS.

It is the first time services such as A&E, maternity and intensive care have been affected in the dispute, with senior doctors stepping in to cover emergency care.

Banners outside of the Royal London Hospital read: “Our NHS deserves better than Jeremy Hunt” and “15 years in training, now demoralised, devalued, depressed #thehunteffect”.

More than 125,000 operations and procedures have been cancelled nation-wide ahead of the two-day strike which will continue tomorrow.

Mike Dilkes, a part-time consultant who is covering junior doctors’ shifts, spoke to the East End Citizen whilst waiting to be called by A&E. He said: “I’m not supposed to do this, I’m doing it out of my own good will but the quality of care will be fine.

“From an emergency perspective, the hospital will be covered.”

Photograph: Barts Junior Doctors
‘Our NHS deserves better’ Photograph: Barts Junior Doctors

Hundreds are said to have turned out in support of the junior doctors’ strike.

Dilkes added: “The atmosphere among senior doctors is very supportive as we know how hard it is, we’ve been junior doctors, we’ve been through the process.

“We very much regret the withdrawal of services but as a short-term fix the strike action is justified, the aim is a fair deal and we don’t have one at the moment. The government has to listen.”

William English, a trainee surgeon at the Royal London, was on call from 8pm last night until 9am this morning before he joined the picket line.

He said: “The strike is not about money, it’s about fairness, and more importantly about safety.

“The new shifts will be near impossible to implement, and will put patients at huge risk.”

Alistair Chesser, Chief Medical Officer at Barts Health NHS Trust, which runs the hospital, said: “Our first priority is always the safety of our patients.

“All of our emergency departments will remain open and able to treat emergencies during these two days. However we have to prioritise emergency care so that we have sufficient senior doctors available.

“Patients who know they do not need immediate treatment are asked to discuss with their GP surgery whether they need to visit an emergency department before attending.

“As always, our staff will assess every patient who attends A&E, and will redirect people if their care can best be offered in an alternative setting.”

A Department of Health spokesperson said: “This escalation of industrial action by the BMA is both desperate and irresponsible – and will inevitably put patients in harm’s way.

“If the BMA had agreed to negotiate on Saturday pay, as they promised to do through ACAS in November, we’d have a negotiated agreement by now – instead, we had no choice but to proceed with proposals recommended and supported by NHS leaders.”

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