Junior doctors' first ever full walkout is over contract dispute : GWH picket says patient safety is being maintained
Eight o'clock on a cold Tuesday morning and the first members of the junior doctors' official British Medical Association (BMA) picket are taking up their position on the grass outside the Great Western Hospital.
It is the first full strike of junior doctors - including withdrawal from emergency care - in the NHS' history. Their nine hour strike on Tuesday (April 26) from 8.00am till 5.00pm will be followed by another full strike the following day.
This is the fifth time the junior doctors have taken strike action during this dispute over their contract. The number of cars passing the pickets in the morning rush hour that hooted their support reflects the public's continuing backing for the doctors - as revealed in the latest opinion poll.
One of the junior doctors on the picket, Dr Joseph Hartland, who is a member of GWH's A&E team, told Marlborough.News that they had strong support from senior colleagues: "We are very confident that during the strike GWH will provide safe NHS care. It will be health care as normal with extremely good care from our colleagues."
The Health Secretary's decision to impose the new contract is part of the government's drive to create a seven-day health service: "We can't," says Dr Hartland, "provide a seven day service with five-day resources. We will happily provide seven-day services, but it's all about resources."
He emphasises that this is not a dispute about pay but about conditions of working - notably the number of hours worked that will be required under the new contract which will be imposed from August. How I ask Dr Hartland will this end? "That's a very good question. Up to 7.59 this morning Mr Hunt could have ended our strikes. While the threat of imposition remains - there cannot be a negotiation."
"We feel he has backed himself into a corner - and backed us into a corner. It seems the government are not willing to back down when it comes to health care. We will happily negotiate once he stops imposing his contract."
The Health Secretary has called this "a bleak day" for the NHS. But nationally coverage of the strike is dominated by Jeremy Hunt's statement on BBC Radio 4: "This is likely to be my last big job in politics...Health secretaries are never popular." The editor of the Health Service Journal believes this statement will make him "MUCH easier to reshuffle".
See GWH statement below about care during the strike days. There is also a website statement from NHS Choices which patients will find useful.