Doctors in Sheffield have withdrawn emergency care for the first time in NHS history as part of a long-running dispute over new contracts.
Junior doctors – all below consultant level – walked out of both routine and emergency care today and will do the same again tomorrow between 8am and 5pm.
However, Will Sapwell, a junior doctor working at one of the psychiatric hospitals in Sheffield who was at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital’s picket line today, reassured patients that the strike will not affect their safety. He said: “We have secured consultant cover and we are confident that our hospitals are safe. There is no question about it.
“We have got a letter signed by 260 consultants telling us to go on strike.”
A major sticking point in the dispute is over weekend pay and whether Saturday should be largely classed as a normal working day. At present, 7pm to 7am Monday to Friday and the whole of Saturday and Sunday attract a premium rate of pay.
Junior doctors are asking health secretary Jeremy Hunt to reconsider as they believe plans for a ‘seven-day NHS’ are unrealistic and would put patients at risk.
Tina Thekkekara, aged 36, a junior doctor working in paediatrics at Sheffield Children’s Hospital since 2007, said: “We are all very sad and demoralised we have had to reach this point.
“We are also surprised Hunt has refused even to engage in a conversation. We aren’t asking him to withdraw the contact, we just want to talk with him and negotiate.
“We are doing this to protect the future of the NHS.
“Were there to be any problems throughout the day, we will step back in.”
Kirsten Major, Director of Strategy and Operations at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said: “Our first priority is patient care and we have been working with junior doctors and our clinical teams to ensure emergency care continues to be provided during this period of industrial action.
“With regard to non-urgent services, we have significantly reduced the number of operations which would normally take place over the two day strike period but we have cancelled very few procedures because we knew in advance about the industrial action which meant we did not schedule patients to come in. This reduction will enable staff to concentrate on providing the care needed for patients already in hospital and those who need emergency care. Patients will have already have been notified of any changes to their scheduled operations or appointment. Those who have scheduled treatments and have not been contacted should attend for treatment as planned. Radiotherapy, chemotherapy and renal dialysis services will also be operating as normal.”
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