Junior doctors' strike: Anger at 'national scandal' of unnecessary NHS deaths as thousands start three-day walkout

·5-min read

Tens of thousands of junior doctors have started a 72-hour strike across England in a dispute with the government over pay.

Many patients will have operations and appointments cancelled as the three days of action brings further widespread disruption to the NHS.

But supporters of the strike say action is needed to stop junior doctors leaving the NHS, which is putting lives at risk.

The British Medical Association (BMA) is calling on the government for pay restoration as it says the wage for junior doctors has fallen 26% since 2008/09, with newly qualified medics making less than a barista in a coffee shop.

An advertising campaign launched by the trade union says: "Pret a Manger has announced it will pay up to £14.10 per hour. A junior doctor makes just £14.09.

"Thanks to this government you can make more serving coffee than saving patients. This week junior doctors will take strike action so they are paid what they are worth."

Junior doctors make up around 45% of the NHS's medical workforce and consultants and other medics have been brought in to provide cover in areas such as A&E.

More than 100,000 patient appointments have already been postponed this winter after nurses took strike action in a dispute with the government over pay, according to NHS figures.

Professor Stephen Powis, medical director of NHS England, told Times Radio that cancer care is likely to be affected by the strikes, saying the NHS is doing "everything we can to ensure that urgent cancer procedures go ahead but, unfortunately, even some of those may be affected this week".

Picket lines formed outside hospitals throughout England on the first day of what will be the longest-ever period of industrial action by junior doctors.

Hamish Bain joined strike action outside University College Hospital London.

He has been a junior doctor working in London for more than five years and has seen colleagues leaving the NHS for better-paid jobs abroad.

When asked why he has chosen to stay, he told Sky News: "Because fundamentally I believe in the NHS, and believe everyone should have access to good quality health care, regardless of how much money they have."

'Absolute national scandal'

Professor Philip Banfield, the BMA's council chair, joined a picket line outside the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham and said: "It's the refusal of government to listen to junior doctors and the crisis unfolding in the NHS.

"We have the worst crisis in the NHS that I have ever known and it's seeing junior doctors leave in their droves.

"The junior doctors' strike is so sad to see but they feel they have been driven to this."

He added: "What is going on day in, day out is that patients are dying.

"The Royal College of Emergency Medicine estimates that between 300 and 500 people are dying unnecessarily, because of the state of emergency departments across the UK, per week.

"That is an absolute national scandal."

'We are not worth 26% less'

Speaking outside the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, junior doctor Shivam Sharma said: "Junior doctors have faced a massive 26% real-terms pay cut over the last 15 years.

"We are not worth 26% less, we don't do 26% less work, we don't see 26% less patients. In fact, the work has only got harder.

"Currently, 50% of junior doctors are struggling to pay rent, mortgage and bills, and 50% are having to borrow money from friends and family just to make ends meet.

"So something has to be done - we have to value doctors here if we are going to keep them."

'We are paid a ridiculously low wage'

Sumi Manirajan, 29, who works at a hospital in London, said that she had been forced to borrow money from her parents in order to sit her medical exams.

She said: "Not only are we being paid a ridiculously low wage for our work, but we also have to handle the expense of sitting our exams, and we don't get any financial support from the NHS to do this.

"Most doctors are working at least 48 hours a week, but there are junior doctors who pick up second jobs or do locum shifts to make ends meet.

"Nobody decides spontaneously to become a doctor, it is something that takes years of training and preparation to achieve.

"I didn't expect my working conditions to be like this when I started training."

'We're genuinely struggling to find the money'

Paul Smith, a first-year surgical trainee at the Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust, said: "I started in my training post in August last year and I've spent £3,000 on course fees, professional fees and exams.

"We can claim some tax back but I've still got to pay that upfront.

"Me and my partner managed to save up enough money to buy a house locally and we found a hole in the roof last week.

"We're genuinely struggling to find the money to fix that at the moment."

Rebecca Lissman, 29, a trainee in obstetrics and gynaecology, said "all that junior doctors are asking is to be paid a wage that matches our skill set".

Speaking outside University College Hospital in London, she added: "I still want to work for a service that's free at the point of use when I'm a fully qualified consultant.

"We want a health service that works for everyone and that's why I'm here today."

The government has been criticised for its handling of the pay disputes, which have been escalating for months.

Talks between the government and health unions will continue this week in the hope of a breakthrough.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: "It is very disappointing that the junior doctors' union are not engaging with the government.

"We are actually having constructive dialogue with other unions who have accepted our offer to come in and talk through it."

If you are an NHS worker and would like to share your experiences with us anonymously, please email NHSstories@sky.uk