Wednesday, February 21

Hospitals in emergencies only plea as junior doctors strike


Hospitals gear up for junior doctors strike Hospitals across England are providing emergency care only after thousands of junior doctors went on strike.

Despite last-ditch talks to prevent the damaging action, around 4,000 operations and procedures have been cancelled, with thousands more routine appointments also postponed.

Around 100 picket lines have been put in place for the strike, with a large concentration in and around London.

Patients have been told hospitals are under pressure and asked to attend A&E only if they have a genuine emergency.

Instead, patients are being asked to make the most of other NHS services, including GPs, walk-in centres, the 111 phone line and pharmacies.

The British Medical Association (BMA) is being backed in its action by other unions, including Unite, Unison and the RMT.

Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said yesterday: “Other NHS staff fear that the dispute with junior doctors could be the dry run for a much bigger confrontation. They suspect ministers also want to axe the unsocial hours payments that they get for working nights and weekends.

“Working additional night and weekend shifts has helped many health staff survive the Government’s harsh and ongoing pay freeze.

“That’s why so many of them across England will be joining picket lines during their breaks and lunchtimes tomorrow to show the Health Secretary that, while everyone wants to see a seven-day NHS, his approach to achieving it is completely wrong.”

Prime Minister David Cameron pleaded with doctors on Monday to call off the action.

He said: “This strike is not necessary, it will be damaging.

“We are doing everything we can to mitigate its effects but you can’t have a strike on this scale in our NHS without there being some real difficulties for patients and potentially worse.”

NHS England said 1,425 inpatient operations and procedures were being cancelled as a result of the strike, along with 2,535 outpatient ones.

It said there are around 4,000 cancellations in total, of which 3,400 are today.

Some 654 cancellations – 192 inpatients and 462 day cases – are in London.

Junior doctors are set to provide emergency care only for 24 hours, starting from 8am this morning.

This will be followed by a 48-hour stoppage and the provision of emergency care only from 8am on January 26.

On February 10, there will be a full withdrawal of labour from 8am to 5pm.

The basis for the current round of negotiations is the Government’s offer from early November, including an 11% rise in basic pay for junior doctors.

This is offset by plans to cut the number of hours on a weekend for which junior doctors can claim extra pay for unsocial hours.

Currently, 7pm to 7am Monday to Friday and the whole of Saturday and Sunday attract a premium rate of pay.

Under the Government’s offer, junior doctors would receive time-and-a-half for any hours worked Monday to Sunday between 10pm and 7am, and time-and-a-third for any hours worked between 7pm and 10pm on Saturdays and 7am and 10pm on Sundays.

The BMA has said there are still several areas of dispute, despite Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt saying the only sticking point is weekend pay.

Liberal Democrat former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “No-one wants a strike and I understand the public concern about the effect of a strike, but equally my experience is that junior doctors, on the whole, are very hard-working men and women who also understand, as Jeremy Hunt has said, that people fall ill at weekends and need to be properly cared for.

“Something has gone wrong here and the Government needs to try to settle this as soon as possible.”