Junior doctors in Sheffield are striking once more as they continue their fight against the Government’s proposed new contract.
Scores of NHS staff joined the picket lines outside the Royal Hallamshire Hospital today (Wednesday, April 6) for the start of the 48-hour walk-out.
The industrial action comes after health secretary Jeremy Hunt decided to force new terms and conditions on junior doctors from August. Further strikes are planned later this month.
City health bosses said they were working with doctors to ensure urgent and emergency care was not affected. About 200 non-urgent procedures have been postponed.
The doctors got plenty of support from passing motorists who honked their horns in solidarity.
Junior doctor Philippa Jeacocke Mr Hunt had not considered the impact of his plan for a seven-day NHS.
“The Government doesn’t seem to be listening to our concerns,” she said. “My main concern is the stretching of a service that already struggles to manage greater pressures than ever before with no real evidence to say how that service is going to be funded or provided for.”
Philippa said there was no way of knowing what impact the proposal for a full seven-day service would have.
Fellow junior doctor Jenna Gulamhusein said the new contract would not work in the way Mr Hunt wanted it to.
“No doctor wouldn’t want a perfect seven-day NHS,” she said. “At the moment we already provide a good seven-day service with emergency cover. All the new contract is going to do is create a worse service during the week.”
Jenna said by making more doctors work full weekends, Mr Hunt would reduce the quality of weekday care.
“To provide what he wants you need more doctors, and that needs more funding,” she said.
Rachel Stansfield was concerned about the impact on junior doctors such as herself who also choose to carry out research. She said she would be punished through her pay.
“When you go into research you get paid less, and you accept that. But at least you don’t carry that with you through your career.”
MP for Sheffield Central Paul Blomfield joined the striking doctors. He said: “Jeremy Hunt has forced the hand of junior doctors. They want to negotiate, not go on strike. His decision to break off discussions and impose a new contract is provocative. It has dismayed doctors, health service managers and patients. The dispute will just go on until he sees sense and returns to negotiations.
“Junior doctors are overworked, morale is at rock-bottom and there’s a growing crisis around staff retention and recruitment. By imposing an unfair contract Jeremy Hunt risks making things so much worse. If the Government really cared about the NHS, they would restart talks, rebuild staff morale, and tackle the real challenges facing the NHS through underfunding.”
Director of strategy and operations at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust Kirsten Major said: “Our first priority is patient care and we have been working with junior doctors and our clinical teams to ensure urgent and emergency care is not affected during this period of industrial action.
“With regard to non-urgent services, we have put in place plans to limit the disruption to operations and appointments as much as possible, and where we have had to postpone we have contacted patients directly to rearrange their appointment or treatment as quickly as possible. We have postponed around 200 non-urgent procedures.”
Sheffield Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) released some advice for patients during the strike. GP and medical director Dr Zak McMurray said: “As ever, the safety and care of patients is our top priority in Sheffield and robust plans are in place. We have been working with providers across the city to ensure we can continue to protect the safety and welfare of our patients and provide the urgent services they may need.
“We would encourage people who already have appointments or elective operations scheduled to check arrangements with the service provider and rearrange them if necessary. We would also urge people to take extra special care of their own health over this period – and to look out for more vulnerable members of their families and communities.”
The CCG reminded people of the other healthcare options available instead of calling 999, such as visiting their pharmacist or GP, calling NHS 111 or using NHS Choices.