Some 5,000 operations have been postponed today due to the fourth round of walkouts by junior doctors. The strikes began at 8am and will last 48 hours, continuing the long-running dispute with the Government over changes to working conditions.
Emergency care will be provided for patients with only routine care targeted for industrial action. The total number of disrupted operations due to industrial action is now almost 25,000.
The doctors are protesting against the imposition of new contracts from Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt at the beginning of February. It would see “core hours” of increased from 7am-7pm to 7am-10pm on weekdays, as well as treating Saturday like a normal working day. It would also penalise those who take time out of practising medicine, for example those who spend time doing research or caring for children.
While exact figures for union turnout are unknown, a spokesperson from the BMA has said that numbers of doctors striking we “as high as they have been” for the previous three walk-outs.
Last month the BMA announced an upcoming all-out strike, which would include emergency and intensive care, from junior doctors, to go ahead on the 25 and 26 of April. This means there will be two rounds of industrial action in the month preceding local elections in May.
Public backing for the current round of strikes is relatively strong, with 59 per cent in support and 23 per cent in opposition, though the gap narrows for strikes which include emergency care, according to YouGov.
— YouGov (@YouGov) April 4, 2016
Dr Johann Malawana, BMA junior doctor committee chair, said the strikes were necessary for the long-term care of patients.
“By imposing a contract that junior doctors have no confidence in and refusing to re-enter talks with the BMA, the government has left us with no choice.
“We want a contract that is fair for all junior doctors – not one of which the Government has admitted will disadvantage women – and ensures that they feel valued and motivated so that the NHS can retain the GPs and hospital doctors of the future.
“Responsibility for industrial action now lies entirely with the government. They must start listening and resume negotiations on a properly funded junior doctor’s contract to protect the future of patient care and the NHS.”
This follows confirmation the contract will disproportionately hit women doctors in the Government’s equality impact assessment, which, according to the BMA, shows the Hunt has “no consideration” for women’s rights.
Labour’s shadow Health Secretary Heidi Alexander has previously called the strikes “avoidable” and said the responsibility is on Hunt to secure an agreement to avoid them.