Doctors picketing outside West Suffolk Hospital have been receiving welcome support from colleagues, patients and members of the public.
Junior doctors at the Bury St Edmunds hospital are among thousands nationwide taking part in industrial action today in protest to a long-running dispute over Government plans to impose new contracts as it moves to introduce seven-day working throughout the NHS.
Passing motorists have been heard honking their horns in support of doctors’ demonstrations at entrances to the hospital while some pedestrians have also been seen cheering.
The British medical Association (BMA) says the aim of today’s 24-hour walk, the second this year, is to ‘secure a contract that is fair for junior doctors, safe for patients and supports a sustainable future for the NHS’.
Speaking from the picket line, Dr Emma Gordon, a urology registrar and one of three BMA representatives at West Suffolk, said she was ‘devastated’ about having to resort to strike action.
“I don’t want to be standing here, I don’t want to be having this fight. I don’t want our profession to be publicly denigrated by the health secretary, I just want to do my job.”
She said junior doctors’ complaints over the proposed changes centred around working conditions and patient safety.
She explained that the Government’s proposed 11 per cent pay increase in junior doctors’ salary would not make up for the ‘uplifts’ they would lose for working anti-social hours and would mean a real-terms pay cut of as much as 50 per cent for some.
“In real terms it’s a dramatic pay cut.”
She added that the proposed changes would remove current safeguards protecting junior doctors from being overworked - financial penalties for hospitals whose doctors work more than 48 hours over seven days - which could put patients at risk.
“The bottom line really is patient safety. The Government talks about wanting an airline level of safety, but pilots don’t have to fly when they’re tired.”
Dr Andrew Gardner, an F1 at West Suffolk, said for a seven-day NHS what was really needed was ‘more staff, more resources’ and more social care so patients can be discharged safely.
He said: “I don’t think any of us went into medicine for the money, you’re a fool if you do, and we’re not asking for more money. We’re just asking for our pay not to be cut and our working conditions not to be eroded.”
The Government says the proposed changes would lead to a better, safer NHS.
It says the new contracts will introduce a new absolute limit of 72 hours work in any week, lower than the 91 hours current arrangements allow, and will remove current financial incentives that encourage doctors to work unsafe hours.