In the first ever all-out strike by doctors in UK’s National Health Service (NHS) history, junior doctors walked out of emergency wards to protest against new contracts they say are not safe and are being forced upon them.
This is the latest in a series of strikes over working hours and pay. However, this is the first time that thousands of doctors have walked out of emergency wards, intensive care and maternity wards - these departments had all been exceptions to the most recent strike in February.
The NHS said it is carrying out “military level” contingency planning – including the cancellation of nearly 13,000 surgeries and more than 100,000 appointments – to protect patients during the 48-hour strike. It has also cancelled holiday and study leave for doctors and redeployed nurses and more senior doctors into emergency care.
Karen Smith’s spinal procedure set for Thursday was cancelled due to the strike. She expressed her feelings to BBC Radio 4:
"I am desperately disappointed that it hasn't gone ahead but I do support the junior doctors 100 percent," she said. "We put our lives in their hands... and our families lives as well and [they're a] highly educated group of people and if they all say that this contract that's been imposed on them isn't safe then I believe it isn't safe."
In UK, there are more than 55,000 junior doctors – a term used for medical practitioners who are working while still going through their years of training.
The doctors’ trade union British Medical Association (BMA) have been in a long-running dispute with the government over the proposed changes to their contract, which would extend their standard working hours to include evenings and Saturdays.
Leaders representing the junior doctors are objecting to the prospect of a new contract calling it “outdated” and “unfair,” noting they were introduced in the 1990s.
Currently, the starting salary for junior doctors is just under £23,000 a year, but with extra payments, this can easily top £30,000.
The government offered a basic pay increase of 13.5% but the government also plans to introduce 7-day working throughout the NHS, which ministers say will lead to a better, safer service for patients. Hours worked during the day on a Saturday will be paid at a normal rate, while extra premiums that are being offered for night and the rest of the weekend will be decreased.
Ipsos MORI carried out a poll for BBC found that more and more UK citizens are supporting the junior doctors – around 57% backing the physicians over the government.