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Junior doctors' strike: picket photos and reports
Junior doctors were out on picket lines in force on Tuesday 12th January in their fight for doctors' wellbeing, patient safety and the future of the NHS.
This was their first strike in 40 years, driven to it by the government's attack on their contracts. They are fighting for fair pay for the hours worked, a safe number of hours, recognition of the right to family life, and no disadvantage to those working part-time or taking parental leave.
Royal London hospital
You can hardly get past a tube or train station in London today without bumping into some junior doctors handing out leaflets and talking to the public. Their 'Meet the Doctors' idea is a brilliant one - as well as staffing big lively pickets everywhere, doctors are out and about explaining to people what their strike is all about.
At the Royal London hospital in Whitechapel a big picket at the main entrance included placards and banners, speeches and chanting. They ran a picket at the back entrance too. Impressively, strikers also gathered in a big display at the tube station to leaflet and talk to the public, and also went up and down the High Street with leaflets. It all made for a really great morning.
The doctors were getting huge support. It was really easy to give out leaflets. All the Tories' attempts to attack the strikers have fallen on deaf ears - as one passer-by said: "People want a safe health service with doctors who are awake!" Donated donuts and cups of coffee kept everyone going in the cold.
No one wants to have to strike again at the end of the month, but fully aware of the intransigence of the government, pickets were planning what they could do to improve next time - maybe a stall and some petitions, a few more signs calling on drivers to 'toot' their support...
I spoke in solidarity from the Tower Hamlets TUSC group and invited strikers along to the People's Budget meeting TUSC is holding on Thursday 14th January along with the Tower Hamlets Independent Group of councillors.
Stevenage Lister hospital
Junior doctors picketed the Lister hospital in Stevenage for the first time ever. There was a mood of determination to fight for justice against the government. Besides getting lots of support from the public, many consultants bibbed their support as they drove to work.
Also supporting were people from the Socialist Party, Stevenage TUC, the People's NHS, Stevenage Momentum and 38 Degrees. They all received a warm welcome from the doctors.
Later today a meeting between the People's NHS, RCN and Unison along with the Stevenage TUC will take place to organise more public support for the NHS over the next few weeks in Stevenage.
Royal Liverpool Infirmary
At Royal Liverpool Infirmary dozens of junior doctors are being supported by other NHS workers, campaigners and the public. Nusiba Taufik, a first year trainee doctor, told Hugh Caffrey from the Socialist Party why she's on the picket:
"I'm out here today in support of all the junior doctors around the country, and in support of anyone who is trying to make sure the NHS actually has a future. Last week many junior doctors were out in support of the nurses, whose bursaries are being cut, and today there have been a lot of people from different jobs and different walks of life because we all want to see the NHS actually have a future.
"The government cuts have been ridiculous, we were already finding it incredibly difficult to hold onto the services that we have. I'm a new doctor, I've been qualified for six months, and already I'm seeing how bad it is with the cuts, and so that's why I'm out here today."
Manchester Royal Infirmary
There was a fantastic turnout from BMA junior doctors and great support from other unions across the city. Manchester Socialist Party members and Manchester Socialist Students also were warmly welcomed by the doctors on the picket lines.
One striking junior doctor told us: "It's great to see such a high level of support from the trade unions, I think we should affiliate to the TUC; we need to work together."
Queen Elizabeth hospital, Gateshead
When you're on a picket line and offered a gingerbread man depicting a heart, bowel or bones, you know you're with junior doctors. The mood outside Gateshead's Queen Elizabeth hospital was buoyant. It was clear that the junior doctors have loads of support from other NHS workers.
A consultant waded through mud to give them a wave, a GP turned up with a box of doughnuts and nurses finishing their shifts came out with boxes of sweets for them. Also, passing cars and vans tooted to show their support. All the junior doctors were very clear that this strike wasn't just about their pay and conditions - it is also about the health of the NHS.
Southampton General hospital
Southampton General Hospital saw a large, noisy and determined picket of junior doctors and medical students angry at the government's attempts to worsen working conditions and patient care in the NHS.
The local BMA rep explained: "The issue for us is unsafe working hours. The proposed changes will remove the current protection. What is needed is investment in more doctors and nurses to improve the current five-day service. The government wants to spread the same money for five days to cover seven days. The service is already overstretched. We already run a seven-day service through A&E, people will always be seen and operations carried out. A&E is overstretched, increasing weekend working without extra resources will make things worse."
Many explained that improving the five-day elective surgery was a more important step to improving patient care.
Another junior doctor who had recently worked an 80-hour week said: "Long working hours are unsafe for doctors and unsafe for patients, the government needs to withdraw its proposals.
Lambeth, Kings College and Maudsley hospitals
Three doctors became six, then eight, with more on the way, outside Lambeth hospital in south London. They were happy, welcoming and clearly enjoying their first time on a picket line. Some had been on the previous Saturday's march to defend student nurses' bursaries. The psychiatric facility's BMA rep remarked that the Tory government is "destabilising the NHS" and bought a copy of the Socialist.
Outside London's Kings College and Maudsley hospitals, smiling, cheering masses of junior doctors, 50 at least, faced each other. Strikers with handmade placards invoking Aneurin Bevan were joined by nurses and other clinical and support staff.
Whole convoys of buses, trucks and ambulances hooted support. The nurses brought out coffee. The dentists brought bags of chocolate - presumably trying to keep themselves in work! Even the chief executive expressed his support for the strike and offered to bring out tea.
Salford Royal hospital
The overwhelming public support for the doctors' strike was shown by the near endless honking of car horns outside Salford Royal hospital. The pickets were enthusiastic and serious about their action, prepared to take more if the government doesn't back down.
Doctors have concerns not just about working longer for less money and patient safety but also about less doctors going into further training and research because they are so uncertain about their futures. They need to know that we all support what they are doing!
Brilliant support for junior doctors in Coventry this morning on their picket line. The 'beepometer' was at maximum! Keep up the pressure and let's make sure they win this battle for all our sakes. Save the NHS!
Chelsea and Westminster hospital
Around 12 doctors were on a very lively picket at Chelsea and Westminster hospital. Lots of people were signing their petitions and there was a very good response from passing motorists.
Royal Stoke University hospital
Despite torrential rain junior doctors and supporters started to appear from 8am onwards this morning outside the main entrance to Royal Stoke University hospital. Within 10 minutes there was a picket of around 20 which grew to over 50 by 10am and there was another 25 to 30 at the Harplands entrance as well.
Union members from Unite, CWU, GMB, North Staffs TUC and NSSN Staffordshire were there to support their BMA brothers and sisters. There was constant honking of horns from motorists on the A34 to show their support.
Heartlands hospital, Birmingham
A number of pickets were on duty at Heartlands hospital in Birmingham from 8am. The general feeling was of strong support for the dispute from the general public with many indications of support from passing traffic (particularly from local authority workers as a refuse truck passed by!)
While only a handful of pickets were present they did indicate that all sites across the area were covered and that Walsgrave in Coventry had a particularly strong presence.
Those present appreciated the Socialist Party's support in what unfortunately could turn into a long and protracted dispute.
Junior doctor Catherine with her 11-week-old Great Dane puppy Sully on their first picket line: "I'm striking because hospitals are unsafe anyway so the longer hours that juniors are expected to work will make them even more unsafe. The morale is already low and junior doctors are already wanting to leave the profession."
Paul Cooney, a Unite rep and retired NHS worker, said: "Any attack on any hospital department is an attack on the whole of the NHS and it's clear that this government wants to destroy it. All unions who represent NHS workers should stand together to save this wonderful institution."
There was a very confident mood from the 30-40 BMA members on the picket line at Bretton Gate this morning, with BMA and homemade placards and very many toots from passing vehicles.
The large local trades council banner was supported on a rota basis in the stiff breeze. BMA members had come well prepared with lots of food, drinks and a brazier, and the general mood was that if the government wants to return the country to the 1980s - bring the fight on!
This is also in the local context of open discussion amongst senior NHS managers about the possible down-grading or closure of a neighbouring hospital, which is of course opposed by the whole population, but which if implemented would threaten the ability to deliver adequate and timely services at Peterborough hospital.
Royal Free hospital, London
Socialist Party members were welcomed by young, determined junior doctors on their picket line at the Royal Free hospital in north London. They are prepared to come out on the other planned strike days if it is necessary. The determination of the junior doctors was reinforced by doctors who had come straight off night shift to stand on the picket line. Other health staff and members of the public came out to show their support for the doctors. They clearly saw this as a much wider dispute about the future of the NHS.
One of the striking doctors told us that he had seen several of his colleagues go to Australia but he couldn't do this as he is very loyal to the NHS and doesn't want to see a health service run by Richard Branson and Virgin.
Talking to the junior doctors it is clear what is at stake. One doctor who is specialising in renal care wants to do a PhD for three years to give himself a better chance of becoming a consultant. The new contract would mean that this would dramatically affect his pay because while he's doing his PhD he wouldn't be on the same pay progressions scale. The new contract would also detrimentally affect women junior doctors wanting to take time off to have children.
While we were on the picket line we had a real example of the extra unpaid hours that junior doctors already work, with one doctor leaving the hospital after 9.30am when he was due to finish at 8.30am. He, like other junior doctors is forced to do an hour of unpaid study time after his shift.
Another example of the conditions that junior doctors face is that we were told that registrars who are on call over the weekend and have to be at the hospital within 20 minutes of being called are sleeping in sleeping bags on floors of the hospital over the weekend because they live too far away and the hospital has got rid of all doctors' on-site accommodation. Many doctors can't afford to live anywhere near the hospital and some have to travel in from Oxford, 70-80 miles away.
This dispute is making more doctors 'political'. One junior doctor we spoke to said that he was not interested in politics at all when he was younger but seeing all the lies in the press and from politicians about this dispute has made him take more of an interest in politics. He supports Jeremy Corbyn being leader of the Labour Party.
Comments made by doctors on the picket line to Socialist Party member Steve Score:
- "We are here because we want to stop the dismantling and privatisation of the NHS. Individually we would be better off if it was, but that's against our principles."
- "I never expected to have to go on strike, Jeremy Hunt should be forced to resign for putting doctors in this position. I don't want to have to strike but I'm using my right to withdraw my labour. We should take action alongside nurses and other workers."
- "I have seen it from both sides, both as a doctor and as a cancer patient. All the staff in the health service are fantastic. They cried with me and supported me when I needed it. I am from another country and can see what a fantastic thing you have in the NHS."
Newham University hospital
One junior doctor at a lively Newham University hospital picket line told the Socialist:
"The strike is not something we ever wanted to do, but the government have left us no choice by imposing a very unsafe, unfair contract that is demeaning to hardworking junior doctors but also dangerous to patients. But we're also very enthusiastic because of the great support from the public and people from other unions and because a 90% vote for action gives us a clear mandate."
Rather than have picket lines on the gates like usual strikes, doctors at Newham had arranged to have a stall and their picket line next to the hospital entrance. They weren't cowed by how things are 'usually done' and it meant they could ask everyone walking into the hospital to take a sticker and sign the petition for which there was huge support.
Scott Jones and Helen Pattison
Whipps Cross hospital, London
The junior doctors' picket at Whipps Cross hospital in the east London borough of Waltham Forest was excellent. It was young, enthusiastic, energetic and well-organised. A rota was established with groups of strikers being dispatched to run stalls at the canteen and at a nearby transport hub so that support could be built among both fellow NHS workers and the wider public.
If support levels can be gleaned from the amount of horn honking, cake delivery and well-wishing by passers-by and hospital workers, the junior doctors have already made a good start. And the doctors themselves were clear on the need for solidarity.
Those I discussed with all mentioned the nurses' bursaries as an issue to fight on, as well as the attacks on midwifery, ambulances and other services. All would prefer to be on the wards doing what they trained to do, but given the Tory attacks they had no choice but to strike.
Joe Piper, who works in paediatrics, currently on the neonatal unit, spoke to me about why he was on strike. For Joe it is "mainly about patient care and patient safety in the future." He explained:
"We already run a 24/7 NHS for acute services and the NHS is the most efficient way of providing national health care for everyone. That's being chipped away under this guise. Jeremy Hunt is moving this towards trying to provide 24/7 non-urgent care with no extra cash.
"This is basically about privatising the NHS and running down existing services. A lot of my friends are threatening to go to New Zealand, Canada, Scotland - anywhere where this contract is not being imposed. I'm here trying to get the government to back down and to put a wider message too, against the loss of efficiency that comes when you try to bring in private services which are about profit and not about best patient care.
"Generally everyone has been very supportive. I work a lot with midwives and nurses and they've all been really supportive. They're also threatened. Replacing the nurses' bursaries with a loan will have a catastrophic effect on recruitment right when we're short of nurses. Everyone is scared about the future. If we get rid of the safeguards for longer hours then we're all going to be tired. I know that at the end of a 12-hour shift I'm not as good as at the start.
"I hope that this strike will bring the government to the negotiating table in good heart - once Jeremy Hunt realises the strength of opposition to these absurd changes. I really hope that they back down. Our senior doctors are behind us 100% too. Their contract is under threat so the joke is that they might well also be out in March. I didn't see this day coming but I think this might well be the start of many more strikes and action to follow."
Poole General hospital
Over 50 junior doctors gathered with their placards and supporters outside Poole General hospital this morning. The show of solidarity has been amazing with honks of support from every passing ambulance, bus driver and members of the public. Hundreds of members of staff and the public have signed a petition in support of junior doctors and the NHS.
A local gardener visited the picket to "pledge her support for a publicly funded and accountable NHS". A senior health care support worker visiting the picket on her break declared that she "may be in work today but inside I'm 100% with the doctors. It's time they started listening to those of us on the frontline."
Queens Medical Centre, Nottingham
A junior doctor told the Socialist about the effect of the new contract on a colleague: "When she heard about it she just broke down into tears". There is simply not enough staff to cope with full seven-day working.
Junior doctor Jamie said: "When it comes to bankers bonuses we're told that they're needed to keep the best in this country. Why not the same for junior doctors? Many medical staff are going abroad because of the working conditions here. I've heard that the rules on fining health trusts if staff work excessive hours will be softened. There's a lack of trust."
Jess, BMA rep, said: "There's about 500 junior doctors here [at Nottingham Queens Medical Centre]. We've got overwhelming support from the public, colleagues and patients today. If this contract comes in we will be doing nothing but anti-social shifts."
Royal Hallamshire hospital, Sheffield
Every entrance of the Royal Hallamshire hospital was teaming with striking junior doctors this morning at 8am. BMA rep Will Sapwell told the Socialist: "Every junior doctor here who is entitled to strike is on strike. The response from the public has been fantastic."
Students on their way to the library and workers heading to their jobs stopped to talk or beeped horns from passing cars, lorries and buses. Some even brought tea and coffee and homemade cakes for the strikers.
Doctors were hopeful that the strike would lead to a resolution, and Will told us that they could not accept Saturday being treated as a normal working day, or the removal of safeguards to stop doctors working long, unsafe hours. If the government is not willing to move on these issues, every doctor was clear that they intended to strike again.
Homerton hospital, Hackney, London
Clare Doyle interviewed Dr Hugh Grant-Peterkin on the picket line:
"There's been a great feeling of nationwide support, in spite of the media - Murdoch and co! Our support is strong from all levels of the profession.The strike makes the issues at stake more clear. The Tories have just a small majority, but it is unsettling that they see this giving them a mandate to undermine public services.
"I'm a senior psychiatric registrar at 35 and will be a 'junior' until I'm 38! A neurosurgeon could be junior until he or she is 40. Some juniors on the new contract would be on less than the London living wage. It's not about big money. It's about protecting the safeguards we have which were established because of the horrors of the '80s - to keep doctors from burning out.
"One of the most senior consultants within my Trust told me that when he was a junior on 100+ hour weeks, two colleagues killed themselves within their first year because of over-work. The attitude of the government seems to be: 'Underfund, undermine, then flog it'. 'Break it, then say it's broken and sell it off'.
"Cuts in every other sphere of public service affect people's mental health and we are seeing the impact on mental health services."
Well over 100 doctors picketed the two main hospitals in Leeds, St James's and the Leeds General Infirmary. Pickets were angry, especially over the insinuation that they're lazy which the media was stirring over the past few days.
One doctor told me he was often staying late and starting early to make sure patients were looked after. Another commented that she and other staff had had to challenge management before now about how short-staffed their department was.
Although doctors see that the dispute is about more than pay, that issue is not insignificant. One doctor recounted to me all the fees they have to pay to professional associations that are legal requirements, plus having to fund their own future training and exams if they wish to develop their capabilities further and progress their careers.
The support from the public came across loud and clear, deafeningly so at times with the numbers of drivers passing the hospital tooting in support. Coffees, chocolate and other picketing supplies were donated by consultants, whilst numerous patients stopped to talk to pickets and express their support, with perhaps the clearest indication of the mood being one woman who simply said: "I support you - Hunt must go!"
The need to coordinate action in defence of the NHS with other sections of workers as well as students was seen as key by many of the pickets, especially linking up with student nurses whose bursaries are under threat. Indeed, many of the doctors expressed a feeling that nurses are getting it worse than them. As one picket commented: "We have a responsibility - if Jeremy Hunt forces through what he's doing to us, then it will be other groups of workers in the NHS who are next!"
Striking doctors in Bristol were out in force today, fighting for fair contracts and to protect the NHS. In addition to pickets at the two hospitals, they spread across the city, handing out hundreds of stickers and leaflets at 'Meet the Doctors' events.
They were warmly greeted by the public with countless honks of car horns and a continuous supply of hot drinks and snacks being offered by supporters. Most passers-by went away wearing BMA stickers to show their solidarity with the action.
People instinctively trust the doctors and not the Tories to put patient safety first. They can see through the lies and half truths of Jeremy Hunt and most people understood that the proposed changes to junior doctors' contracts are part of the Tories' barrage of attacks on the NHS.
Other members of staff who passed the picket lines on the way to work were enthusiastic in their support, knowing that if the attacks on anti-social hours pay are successfully inflicted on junior doctors, they would be pushed out to all NHS workers. There was a lot of support for the idea that NHS staff should be striking together to build the strongest possible force to defend the service and their jobs and conditions.
Attempts to smear doctors as greedy 'Moet medics' who are only concerned about their own pay did not appear to have been successful. Far from living the globetrotting, champagne-swilling high life, our junior doctors are working up to 100 hours a week, saving lives on the front line of the most treasured institution in the country, the NHS.
For this vital work, following years of study they start on a salary of less than £23k a year. They also have to pay for their own professional development; one doctor we spoke to estimated he had spent a whopping £10,000 on courses and exams in the three and a half years since he had qualified.
Harrogate District hospital
Harrogate Socialist Party members joined junior doctors on their picket line at Harrogate District hospital. We had a warm welcome from the strikers. People contacted us saying they had seen us join the picket line on television when a doctor from Harrogate was interviewed on the BBC's Victoria Derbyshire show! We were pleased to see that other trade unionists, including the FBU who have been fighting their own battles against dangerous cutbacks, came along to support the strike.
The government's attack on junior doctors is just one part of their onslaught on the NHS, with student nurse bursaries being cut and the ongoing drive for so-called 'efficiency savings' in each Trust. By uniting these struggles together and as part of a fightback against the disastrous policies of austerity we will be able to defend our NHS and defeat the drive to privatise it.
Birmingham Children's hospital
All who approached and passed by the picket line offered words of support and were happy to take BMA leaflets, stickers and badges.
One junior doctor spoke about the mean-spiritedness of the right-wing press and how they attack any group who wants to help the poor. This was especially apparent in the sickening coverage from the Daily Mail, who attacked junior doctors for 'living it up' on 'luxury holidays'. Thankfully the Socialist provides positive reflections on our hard-working junior doctors.
Guys hospital, photo by Bill Mullins
This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 12 January 2016 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.