Eleventh hour plea for further talks comes after strong turnout in junior doctor strike

Support for the junior doctors’ strike remained firm throughout yesterday’s all-out stoppage, with almost eight in every 10 of the trainees rostered to work taking part in the strike action.

The figures were published by NHS England as the first day of all-out striking came to an end ahead of today’s second demonstration. The organisation clarified, however, that some of the 78% of junior doctors who did not show up for work were absent due to unrelated reasons, such as sickness.

Dr Anne Rainsberry, NHS England’s national incident director and spokesperson for the junior doctors’ strike, said the “unprecedented situation” has pushed staff to make “herculean efforts” to ensure continued safe services.

“However the escalation of this action does bring heightened risk and we are continuing to vigilantly monitor the picture across the whole of the country,” she added.

“The NHS is open for business but in some places may be under specific pressure. We ask the public to use it wisely in this very challenging time as some services may change and some may be busier than usual.”

Yesterday’s strong turnout meant over 12,000 elective operations were postponed, with most of these relating to day cases. Despite this, a number of hospitals told the BBC that services had run smoothly, with some claiming they were actually quieter than usual. No hospital triggered emergency procedures to call back striking junior doctors in case they could not cope with demand.

The government, however, suggested the BMA’s action was inappropriate, with prime minister David Cameron saying “people are asking if this is a proportionate response”, others have been calling on Whitehall to get back to the negotiating table.

The first minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, also wrote to Cameron yesterday in an attempt to intervene in the strike, which she said threatened to have a “knock-on effect” on the NHS in Scotland.

In her letter, she asked the prime minister to lift the threat of imposition on the new and contentious contract in England, thus allowing negotiations to resume once again.

Her move was a direct response to a joint letter from the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh, and the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow – all of which wrote to Sturgeon to express their concerns over the “damaging uncertainty” the new contract would bring to the UK’s health system.

In a joint statement, the royal colleges’ presidents said: “We are already seeing the detrimental impact the threat of an imposed contract is having on the NHS and we are extremely concerned about the impact on patients now, as the all-out strike action by understandably aggrieved trainees takes place, and on the future delivery of safe patient care.

“The imposition of the contract in England risks jeopardising our shared ambition for the future of the NHS by undervaluing and demotivating a group of doctors already under significant pressure.

“We very much welcome the commitment from the Scottish government not to impose the junior contract in Scotland and welcome the first minister’s letter to the Prime Minister to ask him to remove the threat of imposition and return to negotiations.  We believe that imposition in England will have far-reaching and unintended consequences for healthcare across all nations in the UK for the foreseeable future.”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and shadow chancellor John McDonnell also joined striking doctors yesterday afternoon in a march that kicked off after the striking hours had finished.

While Labour hasn’t taken a formal stance in favour of the strike, it joined together with three representatives from other parties, including a Conservative, to pitch a ‘pilot approach’ to the new contract – but this was swiftly rejected by health secretary Jeremy Hunt.

Like yesterday, today’s strike action kicked off at 8am and is expected to last until 5pm.

(Top image c. David Wilcock, PA Wire)


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