Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell joined hundreds of demonstrators who rallied around junior doctors on the day of the first ever full-walkout by doctors in the history of the NHS. They spoke to the crowd outside Richmond House, home of the Department of Health (DoH), having marched across Westminster Bridge from St Thomas’ Hospital.
During his four-minute speech, Jeremy Corbyn described a free health service as a human right, and said the Government were ‘more interested in attacking those who work in the NHS’. The Leader of the Opposition said Jeremy Hunt’s behaviour was ‘utterly contemptible’ and that the NHS was not safe in his hands. Other speakers included John McDonnell (Shadow Chancellor), Caroline Lucas (Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion) and Johann Malawana (Chair of the BMA Junior Doctor Comittee (JDC)).
Dr Jayne Lim, who stood to be the Labour candidate in the upcoming Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough by-election, said she was pleased to see her party leader join the demonstration and said: “This dispute has seen a lot of doctors realise they are in the same boat as other public sector workers.”
Dr Jeeves Wijesuraj, a member of the JDC, spoke from a picket line outside St Thomas’: “I think today is very sad. I, and my junior doctor colleagues, have never contemplated striking before. We’ve been forced into this position by a health secretary who is not listening to his own doctors, the Royal Colleges or the Patient’s association when they say the contract is not safe.”
Doctors have been maintaining a vigil outside the DoH for two weeks, offering Jeremy Hunt the chance to come and speak to them about the contract. Dr Carrie Thomas, an A&E registrar from a South London hospital, said she’d received unanimous support from the DoH employees she’d spoken to. “I think it’s horrendous in 2016 that Jeremy Hunt has introduced a gender pay gap into a profession where previously it didn’t have one.”
Dr Thomas was referring to the DoH own equality analysis that admits the contract ‘indirectly discriminates against women’ but that this is acceptable because is is for a ‘legitimate aim’. When asked about the safety concerns some have raised about the junior doctor strikes, Dr Thomas pointed out that her hospital today had 19 fully-trained consultant doctors in A&E when there would normally be 3 or 4.
Doctors were not the only people making their voices heard in the demonstration against the Government. Paula Peters, a Disabled People against Cuts (DPAC) activist, was concerned about how the contract would be yet another change for the worse in the lives of disabled people. “For us, [DPAC] it’s personal. Jeremy Hunt has voted for every cut and attack on disabled people. An unsafe, unfair contract that produces tired doctors at risk will put my services at risks. I’ve lost 22 friends [to suicide] as a result of these cuts”
The actions of Jeremy Hunt comes as no surprise to Aine Hall who campaigned with the National Health Action party against Jeremy Hunt in the 2015 general election. “I was grief-stricken when he increased his majority. I have relatives who are junior doctors, and it’s so upsetting how this dispute is making them feel.”
The Department of Health was asked for comment on the story but did not respond. Two of its employees were spotted wearing BMA badges.