Impassioned doctors marched in their thousands to Downing Street this evening, angry at the government’s approach to their contract re-negotiation.
In the shadow of Westminster Abbey at Central Methodist Hall, doctors of all ages and experience gathered to express their displeasure. They are unified and state in one voice that their new contracts are a threat to the NHS and patient safety.
Changes to the contract include: an increase in hours classed as sociable work, removal of safeguards for maternity pay, and a reduction in GP salary. Joanna Sutton-Klein, who helped organised the event, said she was ‘extremely pleased’ with the turnout. As seen in this video, the junior doctors are united against the upcoming changes.
It’s not just junior doctors who are angry about the proposed contract; senior colleagues are lived at how their juniors are being treated. Two Tower Hamlets GPs said the contracts: “fundamentally attacked the NHS,” one adding “My first job was 120hrs a week, I know the bad old days!”
Prior to the European Working Time Directive, which limits working hours to 48 a week, junior doctors regularly worked shifts that left them dangerously fatigued. John Orr, a consultant anaesthetist from University College London Hospitals, praised junior doctors for standing up for themseves: “This [contract] is going to affect those of us who work in acute care and affect patient safety. It comes after years of erosion, everyone has had enough.” He was pleased that the BMA was balloting its members, describing the protest as “the start of something bigger.”
Student doctors were quick to voice their thoughts on the matter. “The proposals are clearly created by people who are either incompetent or malicious”, according to David, a second year medical student at St Barts and the London. Rose, also a Barts medical student, supported him, and added: “We fundamentally go into this profession to help people, and this contract is dangerous for patients.”
Rachel Freedman, an anaesthetist of 8 years experience, spoke of the anger amongst the gathered crowd: “We’re furious at the imposition of an unclear contract.” When asked how many times she’d been to a protest, she said: “This is my first time, this issue has galvanised a lot of people. An imposition is not something that should be bandied about in a democracy.”
The crowd listened as Johann Malawana, chair of the BMA Junior Doctor Commitee (JDC) spoke, cheering in support of yesterday’s decision to ballot junior doctors on whether to take industrial action.
He cautiously welcomed Jeremy Hunt’s decision earlier in the day to reopen negotiations, adding: “We hope that we’re not going to be treated like we have been.”
David Rowse, deputy chair of the BMA JDC, clarified why the committee had decided on the ballot: “because our members are angry and rightly so. We have a government imposing a contract whether we’re in the room or out of the room and that is unacceptable.”
Freedman was less optimistic about the upcoming meetings, describing them as: “An empty offer from an empty health secretary.”
Yannis Gourtsoyannis, an infectious diseases registrar, stood in front of Downing Street’s security gates, backed up earlier comments: “I think doctors will take it as far as it needs to be taken – if that means industrial action that means industrial action.”
Junior doctors, and other health professionals, eagerly await the outcome of Mr Hunt and Dr Malawana’s meetings, and seemingly stand ready to fight hard if significant compromises are not made by the Department of Health. Ballots are in the process of being prepared and will be sent out to all junior doctors in England in due course.