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Junior Doctors and Jeremy Hunt: The Strikes Begin

Tuesday 12 January 2016

Strikes ensue as junior doctors and Jeremy Hunt continue to clash

Back in October, amidst the initial disagreements between junior doctors and Jeremy Hunt, we considered the implications that the Health Secretary’s plans for restructuring junior doctor contracts would have on the NHS.

At the end of 2015, the nation saw a brief reprieve in the conflict and believed that an amicable resolution had been made: Junior doctors called off a three day strike after a last-minute agreement to continue talks with Jeremy Hunt and discuss the contract details.

These continued discussions, however, have ultimately failed in reaching an agreeable solution.

Today, in the first of three planned strikes, doctors across the nation have put down their stethoscopes and picked up their picket signs to protest against the changes to be made to their contracts by the Health Secretary.

What are the strikes about?

Junior doctors are currently paid ‘standard’ time for normal working hours, defined as 7am-7pm Monday to Friday. Under Mr Hunt’s proposed contracts, ‘standard’ time will be extended from 60 hours per week to 90 hours, and will increase from 7pm to 10pm every night of the week apart from Sunday.

Junior doctors and Jeremy Hunt still disagree on the repercussions of the proposed changes, with junior doctors claiming that, by not being paid a higher salary for working antisocial hours, they will lose up to 30% of their salary.

These strikes are the first since 1975, but how are they affecting the NHS and the service it provides its patients?

As junior doctors are providing emergency cover only during the current 24-hour walkout period, patients are being advised to make appointments with GPs instead. The NHS has so far postponed 4,000 routine treatments.

Doctors at Sandwell have been urged to return to work today as their hospital has reported an ‘escalation level 4’ and believes that the current staffing levels are unsafe to deliver care to all of its in-patients.

Despite the undeniable risks to patients, the British Medical Association supports the industrial action.

Dr Mark Porter, leader of the BMA, has commented that ‘we sincerely regret the disruption that industrial action will cause, but junior doctors have been left with no option’ and has further suggested that ‘it is because the government’s proposals would be bad for patient care as well as junior doctors in the long-term that we are taking this stand.’

Amongst the issues still to be resolved are safeguards to limit the number of hours that doctors work as well as the pay for weekend work.

We are now left questioning whether the short term loss of services will be worth the long term gain for doctors and patients alike.

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