Junior doctors in Harrogate have warned the government’s new contract set to be imposed on them would be ‘the final nail in the NHS coffin’.
In November, a ballot of 38,000 junior doctors voted overwhelmingly in favour of full strike action in protest to the ‘unfair and unsafe’ contracts from next August.
Although the British Medical Association agreed to suspend the walk-out following a last-minute breakthrough in talks on Tuesday, December 1,tensions still remain.
Dr Deborah Goldfield, a junior doctor at Harrogate Hospital,had organised a picket line for Tuesday’s planned strike action on Lancaster Park Road in protest to the contracts.
She described the medics’ decision to strike as a ‘catastrophe’ for their profession but stressed it was necessary to ensure they were given a safe and fair contract.
“Currently there’s a system to safeguard our hours worked and if we work over that the hospital will get heavily fined by the government,” Dr Goldfield explained.
“However, this has been scrapped in the new contract so there is no incentive for trusts to ensure that doesn’t happen.
“Any doctor should be well rested because tiredness kills. We are not robots, we are humans and human error increases if we don’t have proper rests or breaks. These safety risks are largely why we decided to strike.”
Dr Goldfield also explained that under the new contracts there would be pay cuts of up to 30 per cent and premium rates for doctors working between 7am and 10pm every day apart from Sunday would be slashed.
The result of this would be doctors avoiding some specialities, others going to work abroad or a difficulty in recruiting new junior doctors to the profession, according to Dr Goldfield.
She said: “We are very worried about the new contracts and the knock-on effects about the sustainability of our NHS. Once it’s gone, it’s gone and there’s no coming back.
“Although they are denying it, the government are trying to privatise it and so much of it already has been. This would be the final nail in the coffin.
“Doctors will stay behind for two or three hours per day for free. The NHS is sustained by their good will and this contract will remove that.”
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has previously condemned junior doctors for considering a strike and warned that vulnerable patients would suffer as a result.
However, Dr Goldfield said the reaction she, and other junior doctors in Harrogate, has received from the public has been ‘overwhelmingly positive’.
She said: “It’s a catastrophe for our profession that we had to make a decision to strike. This was done with a very heavy heart but we went in with our eyes open.
“We recognise that people feel it’s unsafe because junior doctors are the backbone of the NHS and without them we couldn’t function.
“But the union have given double the amount of time necessary for trusts to get emergency care in so that meant the consultants would be running the show.
“We know it’s an inconvenience but we feel it’s a short term loss for a massive long-term gain, especially when patient safety is at risk.”