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'Backbone of the NHS': Junior doctors strike over contract

STRIKE: Junior doctors on the picket line outside the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle, as a doctors go on strike for 24 hours in a dispute with the government over new contracts

HOSPITALS IN England are facing major disruption as junior doctors have gone on strike in a dispute with the government over a new contract.

The doctors are providing emergency cover only during the 24-hour walkout, which started at 8am today (Jan 12).

“First and foremost, we want to negotiate a contract that is fair for doctors, safe for patients and provides a future for the NHS,” it reads in a British Medical Association (BMA) pamphlet. “However, to be able to get back round the table, we want the Government to remove the threat to impose a new, negotiated contract on us.

Junior doctors, who claim the term in itself is “misleading” because we “are fully-qualified professionals and the backbone of the NHS”, want a contract that “pays us fairly for the hours we work, ensures the hours we work are safe and provides cover at weekends and at night, but also recognises our right to a family life”.

They have also asked that the new contract “doesn’t disadvantage those doctors who work less than full time or who take parental leave”.

The walk-out comes after talks between the union and government failed to reach agreement on the contract. The BMA is concerned about pay for weekend working, career progression and safeguards to protect doctors from being over-worked.

But ministers have argued the current arrangements are outdated and changes needed to improve standards of care at the weekend.

The NHS has so far postponed 4,000 routine treatments, while appointments and tests are also being hit.

In a last-minute plea yesterday (Jan 11) for junior doctors to call off the action, the prime minister said the walkout would cause "real difficulties for patients and potentially worse".

And shortly after the strike got under way, bosses at Sandwell Hospital in the West Midlands asked junior doctors to come off the picket line because of a surge in activity and problems discharging patients. But union bosses have not yet agreed to the request.

There are more than 55,000 junior doctors in England - a position covering people who have just graduated from medical school through to those with more than a decade of experience.

They represent a third of the medical workforce, and just over 37,000 are members of the British Medical Association (BMA), which called the strike.

As Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn blamed the Government for the strike going ahead, shadow health minister Justin Madders said NHS doctors were given "no choice but to take this action".

Christopher Hix, from the Patients Association, said patients are caught in the middle of a dispute which has been badly handled by both sides.

"It's very hard to believe that junior doctors not being at their posts isn't going to have a serious adverse effect on patients and patient safety," he said.

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