UK junior doctors on strike against pay change

Junior doctors in London start a 24-hour walkout over pay, leading to hundreds of cancelled operations.

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM (FEBRUARY 10, 2016)(REUTERS) – England’s junior doctors started a 24-hour walkout on Wednesday (February 10) after last-ditch talks with the British government over pay collapsed.

The government wants to introduce changes in the way doctors are being paid. The main sticking point is over weekend pay and whether Saturday should be classed as a normal working day. Junior doctors are currently paid a premium at weekend.

A choir which dubbed itself the National Health Singers, a reference to the National Health Service (NHS), sang for the public: “You could save us, don’t let them break us, we are your doctors, let’s keep it that way. The NHS should be yours, let keep it yours.”

It is the second time industrial action has been taken over the contractual dispute. The junior doctors, or doctors in training who represent just over half of all doctors in the National Health Service (NHS), held a one-day strike in January.

Junior doctors will only offer emergency care during the 24-hour period.

Doctor William Turner said the government weren’t listening to junior doctors’ concerns.

“The questions have not been answered by the government, we are all disappointed that it has led to another walkout,” Turner said.

Their union, the British Medical Association (BMA), says the contract does not provide proper safeguards against doctors working dangerously long hours.

“Listen, listen to the points that are being made, that patients’ safety are going to be harmed if you bring through these contract changes,” Turner added.

Hundreds of operations will be cancelled, the NHS said, stressing that many more will go ahead as planned.

“We are looking to minimise the disruption to patients. We anticipate that about 2,800 operations will be cancelled. To put that into context though on a average day the NHS does 31,000 operations so the cast majority will go ahead,” NHS Regional Director Anne Rainsberry told ITN.

Ninety-eight percent of more than 37,000 junior doctors in England voted for strikes in protest against a new employment contract Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has proposed. Doctors in the rest of Britain are not involved.

Britain’s NHS delivers care free to the whole population and accounts for a third of government spending on public services.

Although it has been shielded from the brunt of a government austerity drive, alarm bells are now ringing about whether the NHS is adequately funded to maintain high standards.

The NHS budget has been frozen in real terms for the past five years, an exemption from harsh spending cuts suffered by most other public services since the Conservative-led coalition came to power in 2010 vowing to bring down Britain’s huge deficit.

But that relative protection has still felt like a tight squeeze for the NHS, which faces growing pressure from a boom in Britain’s ageing population that has brought it more patients with more complex needs requiring costly treatments.