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Strikes to continue until acceptable action taken

Pay & Contracts
By Peter Blackburn

Junior doctors pledge to maintain industrial action until a credible offer is made

Junior doctors are ‘not going to stop going on strike’ until the prime minister takes genuine action to resolve the dispute for the good of staff, patients and the NHS.

That was the message from doctors taking industrial action for the 11th time in 20 months today – with staff taking their places at picket lines outside hospitals across the country and demonstrating at a rally outside Downing Street.

Doctors reported deep disappointment in prime minister Rishi Sunak walking away from mediated talks and holding a general election instead but said ‘solidarity’ was still strong and warned that ‘frustrating’ and ‘demotivating’ actions from the Government would only strengthen their will.

London foundation year 2 Callum Parr (pictured right, above, ahead of the Downing Street rally with [left to right] doctors Jinnie Shin, Shivam Sharma, Haseena Wazir and Nicholas Pitto) was at the picket line at St Thomas’ Hospital in London and the Downing Street rally and said doctors just don’t feel valued and that ‘pay is the best metric of value the Government can offer us’.

He said: ‘Doctors are still leaving every day – I’ve got friends going to Australia when they finish foundation year 2 in a month’s time. It’s not a problem we can keep kicking down the road. When I speak to doctors, they all feel they have got no choice. We’ve lost 26 per cent of our pay over the last 15 years. It’s only going to erode further if we don’t do anything. We have no other choice but to restore our pay and keep doctors in the NHS.’

Sunnier climes

Dr Parr, who has rotated through six different specialties including emergency care and general practice and is based at St Mary’s Hospital, added: ‘When I was in A&E, I would often turn up to work with people having already had 12-hour waits because we don’t have enough doctors. Patients were waiting in corridors with injuries and illness that we couldn’t fit into the main department. There were rarely times when I wasn’t going to collect someone from a corridor and it’s just such a long time to wait when you’re at the lowest point of your life.’

And, in a message to whichever party and politicians form the next Government a week tomorrow, Dr Parr said: ‘We all felt really positive when we heard there were mediated talks but for the Government to just throw that away feels like a wasted opportunity to solve this problem.

‘Whoever it is from whatever party the issue remains the same. Doctors are not going to stop going on strike but we will keep losing doctors to Australia, to New Zealand and to other jobs. When we lose them that is a permanent strike. We don't get those doctors back. I would ask them to sit down with us and resolve the dispute for the good of doctors, the good of patients and the good of the NHS. ‘

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Queen's Medical Centre, Nottingham

In Bristol a crowd of junior doctors sang ‘full pay restoration’ to the tune of the White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army and at Nottingham’s Queen’s Medical Centre one junior doctor held a sign which read: ‘We can’t keep calm and carry on any more.’

At St Thomas’ Hospital in London, where Dr Parr was on the picket line, Sumi Manirajan spoke to media over the chants of: ‘What do we want? Pay Restoration! When do we want it? Now!’

Dr Manijaran, who is the BMA junior doctor committee deputy chair and works in obstetrics and gynaecology, told Sky News: ‘I see patients who have been waiting in A&E for 12 hours to see a doctor in agony, bleeding, wanting to see someone for a definitive treatment. Every hospital consultation now starts with an apology for how long the patient has been waiting.

‘We have less doctors to treat more patients. Doctors are burning out and leaving the country in droves. Patients are coming into A&E with the same problem over and over again because they cannot have the definitive management or the surgery to cure their problem. Patients are in pain for longer, suffering, not able to work and not able to be productive.’

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Junior doctors protest outside St Thomas' Hospital, London

A week ago, junior doctors’ leaders offered Mr Sunak ‘yet another chance’ to put in writing details of a commitment to restoring pay, which they say would have been enough to mean strikes did not need to go ahead. The prime minister did not do so.

BMA junior doctors committee co-chairs Robert Laurenson and Vivek Trivedi described the prime minister's lack of action as 'immensely disappointing'.

They said: ‘The PM has cynically blamed his own failure to get waiting lists down on striking doctors, all the while dragging out talks in the full knowledge that it was going to cause yet more strike action. By first calling an election and then refusing any attempt to engage he has shown he clearly had no intention of sorting this dispute out in good time.

‘We have been as reasonable as we can: we gave him a final chance to put forward an offer. When he did not we gave him plenty of time to correct his mistake and gave him a clear way of doing so. He could have put in writing a commitment to pay restoration should he form the next Government. At a time when he is making plenty of commitments in a general election, this only meant making one more.’

They added: ‘No doctor wants to strike – not this time nor the ten rounds of action before it. We have been forced to this position by more than a decade of savage pay cuts, and nothing would make us happier than returning to work this week with a commitment to pay restoration.’