‘There is a very strong team of senior consultants stepping in to care for patients’
Motorists honked their horns in support of junior doctors outside Tunbridge Wells Hospital yesterday on a day that saw the first all out doctors’ strike in the history of the NHS.
Over 100 medical procedures were cancelled across all sites by Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust with 277 junior doctors walking out of routine and emergency care over the proposed imposition of a new contract.
Some 50 staff gathered on the grass verge by the entrance of the Pembury hospital, braving the unseasonably cold weather.
The unprecedented action is the latest escalation in the ongoing dispute with Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt over the introduction of a new contract. Junior doctors claim it will make them poorer and patients less safe due to possible longer working hours – a position the government rejects.
Despite polls showing ongoing public support for the strike, some people were starting to question whether patients would be the real casualties of the walkout.
This was strenuously denied by Dr Langhit Kurar, one of those carrying placards. He said patient safety would ‘never be jeopardised’ by the action and added: “The main casualties are the junior doctors themselves. The public does not need to worry.” Like many who have spoken to the Times, Dr Kurar said he was not taking strike action lightly, but he felt there was no choice: “We do feel bad and no-one wants to strike.
“We do not want to be seen to jeopardise patient safety and that is certainly not the case. There is a very strong team of senior consultants stepping in… they wouldn’t be doing that if they did not support our position. They would flat out tell us to get back to work.
“Jeremy Hunt claims we are refusing to get round the negotiating table but it is the complete opposite.
“There has been cross-party support for the strike and we suggested implementing a trial period and he ignored it.”
Another concern raised by those who oppose the strike is that junior doctors have not read the 80-page contract in full.
Dr Rahee Mapura, a first-year foundation student, said that while this might be true, the most salient points were well publicised: “I have not read the entire thing, but I have read the highlights and there is a good summary on the BMA (British Medical Association) website.”
Her main concern is what she believes will be the impact the new contract will have on female doctors.
She was referring to the government’s own impact assessment of the contract, which stated that any ‘adverse effect’ on women’s pay would be a ‘proportionate’ means to an end.
Under the new contract, doctors no longer get automatic pay rises for time served, meaning those who take time off – especially women raising a family or on maternity leave – will be impacted.
The Department of Health’s Equality Impact Assessment highlighted single mothers as being at a particular disadvantage.
Dr Mapura said: “When I joined I thought I was entering a profession where women were on an equal footing, unlike in many other sectors such as working in the City.
“But this will no longer be the case and that is absolutely heartbreaking. If I have a daughter I would tell her not to become a doctor.”
Angela Gallagher, the Chief Operating Officer of the Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust said patient safety was a priority ‘at all times’ during the strike.
She added: “We will monitor events very closely during the period to ensure that we have the appropriate cover provided in all areas and we are very grateful for the support and collaborative working from all groups of staff in preparation for this day.”
Junior doctors (doctors below the level of a consultant), were on strike from 8am till 5pm yesterday (Tuesday) and plan to take the same action today (Wednesday).
- Junior doctors from the Tunbridge Wells and Maidstone NHS Trust continued to provide community services while on strike yesterday, by hosting a free meningitis and sepsis awareness event. Held at Christ Church on the High Street, the event featured two 45-minute presentations in the afternoon on symptoms and signs and what to do. The workshop followed on from the ‘Little Lifesavers’ event which was held during the last strike on April 7 in which parents learned how to give emergency care to children.