What’s Up, Docs? – Behind The Picket Line With The Striking Junior Doctors

Last week, junior doctors across England held a fourth strike in protest at government proposals for changes in pay, hours and working conditions, which, the medical profession warns, will destroy the NHS. But what exactly are they fighting for? And how will it affect you? NME went behind the picket line at King’s College Hospital, London, to find out.

Dale
29
Works in A&E at Whips Cross Hospital, London

Why are you here?

Because of the Conservative government’s imposition of a contract which we believe is unsafe and unfair.

What happens if you lose?

On a macro-scale, I don’t believe the NHS will be able to sustain the cuts. They’re coming for the junior doctors now, it’ll be the consultants next, and they’re already removing some funding for nurses’ training. I genuinely believe they want to break the NHS up, so if we don’t succeed the NHS will be sold off to private companies.

Will these strikes make a difference?

It’s the only way to make a point. If we sit down and take the beating the government is continuing to give the NHS, we won’t be able to provide the service we want for our patients.

Why does this matter?

There’s a generation of people who take the NHS for granted in a country where all healthcare is free at the point of entry. If we don’t fight now for what we have, I don’t believe we’ll an NHS worth fighting for in 10 years.

Hannah
25
Works at King’s College Hospital

Why are you here?

This is my career, and hopefully I’ll be in it for the next 30-40 years. I’ve got an interest in this as a doctor, but also from my patients’ point of view. The contract the government is trying to impose on us is trying to stretch five days’ worth of funds for services and staff over seven days, making non-emergency surgeries like hip operations or clinics available on Saturdays and Sundays. Their reasoning is that somehow this will reduce weekend mortality figures and make weekends safer, but we believe it’ll do the opposite. It’ll make every single day less safe, because you can’t do more with the same.

Why does this matter?

We all use the NHS. It’s a huge, monumental achievement that we need to defend. This change will weaken it and enable further negative changes against nurses and other healthcare professionals. It’s the start of what could the dissolution destruction of a national treasure.

What don’t people realise about junior doctors that you wish they realised?

How much of the workforce junior doctors are. It goes all the way from me being a first-year, to just before you become a consultant or GP. Some of the people on the picket line today have 15 years of experience. It’s the majority of doctors you see in A&E and clinics. The people taking your appendix out – they will be junior doctors.

Patrick
29
Works in A&E at King’s College Hospital

Why are you here?

To make a stand against the Department of Health and the government, represented by Jeremy Hunt, David Cameron and the Tories. Their approach in dealing with the junior contract has been completely unacceptable and unfair. Imposing a strike on any group of workers is a dangerous, futile and ineffective means of enacting change. It’s appalling, the effect it’s having on morale.

Why does this matter?

What’s the alternative: do nothing? I’m not at work and I’m not getting paid today. I’m not going to be at home, getting on top of life. I’m going to be out here taking a stand. We have a great opportunity at the end of April [all-out stoppages are planned for the 26th and 27th] to make a stand. It’s going to crank up the pressure on the government to listen to us. We’ve got four more months to apply different strategies, and we’ll do that to the bitter end because we believe in this NHS dearly. To see it getting progressively weakened breaks the hearts of everyone who works in it.

Claire
30
Junior doctor in Psychiatry, Maudsley Hospital

What happens if you lose?

The NHS as it is now won’t exist. It would be a disaster for recruitment and morale. If you don’t have the doctors, who is working for the patients? Also, documents released this week have put in writing that this contract discriminates against women. So as a female doctor, I don’t believe this contract should be going through.

Will these strikes make a difference?

I wouldn’t be here otherwise. This is so important we have to keep going and we have to stay strong.

Are you getting more support, or criticism, for what you’re doing?

The public are mostly very supportive, and we feel we’re getting the message out there. The public are very supportive of the NHS so they’re behind our campaig.

Sachin
30
Junior doctor at Maudsley Trust

What happens if you win?

We go back to the drawing board with negotiations. I can’t predict the finalised contract, but the BMA would negotiate for a contract that’s more beneficial for junior doctors and the public. We would save the NHS from what is doomed to happen if this contract goes through.

What happens if you lose?

We lose vital safeguards that keep us from being worked for multiple long shifts. It would reduce our pay for unsocial hours, and it would increase the amount of time that social hours exist for. It all adds up to us being overworked, and patients being seen by doctors who are overworked. We want to avoid patients having a service that is five days stretched out over seven days.

Why does this strike matter?

The British public have told us they care about having an NHS, and free health care at the point of delivery. We’re going to lose that if this goes through, because we’re going to lose doctors. We are looking at the beginning of the destruction of the NHS.