‘It’s important to strike today to save our NHS for the future’ - junior doctors walk-out at hospitals across East Anglia

Junior doctors on strike at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn. Picture: Matthew Usher.

Junior doctors on strike at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn. Picture: Matthew Usher.

Junior doctors are striking against the government today, affecting hundreds of patients, with one Norfolk hospital currently on 'black alert'.

Junior doctors from James Paget University Hospital are picketing outside the hospital as part of th

Junior doctors from James Paget University Hospital are picketing outside the hospital as part of the strike today. - Credit: Archant

Doctors working across the county are staging a 24-hour walk-out from Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, James Paget University Hospital, in Gorleston, and Queen Elizabeth Hospital, in King's Lynn.

It started at 8am today and left hospitals with no choice but to cancel patients' operations and appointments.

But bosses are urging patients to attend their appointments as planned unless they have been told not to.

'Tried and tested plans' are in place to limit disruption and emergency care is not affected.

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Currently the Queen Elizabeth Hospital is on 'black alert' while the N&N is on 'red alert'. James Paget Hospital is on 'amber alert'.

'Black alert' describes the highest level of internal pressure within a hospital, with 'red' being the second-highest and 'amber' the third-highest.

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The Queen Elizabeth Hospital has been on black alert since Tuesday, a spokesman said.

It comes after the British Medical Association and the government failed to agree on terms within a new proposed contract.

An identical strike was cancelled at the last minute in December when talks were resumed. This is the first of three planned strikes.

The government wants to cut the number of hours classed as 'unsociable', for which doctors can claim extra pay, and are offering an 11pc pay increase to compensate.

But doctors say that amounts to a pay cut and also object to the government removing safeguards to punish hospitals that overwork doctors.

There were around 40 doctors, and representatives from Norwich and District Trade Unions Council, picketing outside the N&N.

James Rowson, the British Medical Association's representative at the hospital, said: 'We will go as far as we have to, to stop the goverment imposing the contract.

'We are working incredibly closely with the hospital to provide for the safety of patients.

'I want to say that the trust has been great. Other doctors across the country have not had the same level of co-operation from their employers.'

Around 50 junior doctors and their supporters formed a picket line outside the main entrance of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital as part of the national strike over the proposed changes to their contracts.

Many drivers passing the group sounded their horns supporting their actions.

Junior doctor Shrestha Sinha and local British Medical Assoication representative said: 'I do want to take the opportunity to apologise to anyone affected by the strike.

'Junior doctors are still providing emergency medical care and those who do still need to attend hospital should still do so.'

He added: 'We feel it's important to strike today in order to save our health service for the future.'

Junior doctors also picketed at James Paget Hospital, in Gorleston.

Dr Trevor Kileen, one of the doctors on strike, said: 'I think all junior doctors are disappointed that agreement wasn't reached.

'Though some of the areas of dispute have been addressed through compromise on both sides, but the fundamental issues of working time, protection, and patient safety still remain unresolved.

'We feel that having demonstrated, petitioned, written to MPs and engaged in talks through ACAS, the only course of action remaining is to strike.

'We don't want to cause patients difficulties and apologise for the inconvenience.'

There are around 55,000 junior doctors in England. The BMA has around 37,000 members.

•Have you been affected by the strike? Email our health correspondent at nicholas.carding@archant.co.uk

What is the dispute about?

The Government is intent on introducing a new contract for doctors working up to consultant level to replace one it says is 'outdated'.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt wants to introduce a 'truly seven-day NHS'. He plans to cut the number of hours on a weekend that junior doctors can claim extra pay.

Under the most recent proposals, doctors will receive an 11% rise in basic pay but extra pay for 'unsocial' hours will be cut.

Currently, 7pm to 7am Monday to Friday and the whole of Saturday and Sunday attract a premium rate of pay.

Under the new plans, a higher rate would run from 10pm to 7am Monday to Friday, and from 7pm on Saturday evenings (a concession on the previous 10pm).

Mr Hunt argues that, under the new deal, just 1% of doctors would lose pay and those would be limited to doctors working too many hours already.

He said maximum working hours per week would fall from 91 to 72.

Johann Malawana, the British Medical Association's junior doctor committee chairman, has said the increase in basic pay is misleading due to the changes to pay for unsocial hours.

He said it devalues the vital work junior doctors do in the evenings and at weekends.

The BMA also has a range of other concerns, including on protecting doctors working in some specialties.

Haven't doctors threatened to strike before?

Three strikes were called off at the 11th hour on November 30 after the Government, the BMA and NHS Employers agreed to continue talks through the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas). There were three weeks of talks up to Christmas and then one day of negotiations, which failed to reach an agreement.

Will the strikes go ahead?

There is still some hope that an agreement can be reached between both sides to prevent strikes going ahead. The remaining sticking point is around weekend pay. Mr Hunt said most other areas have now been agreed upon with the BMA.

When will the strikes happen?

Junior doctors will provide emergency care only from 8am today.

This will be followed by two further spells of strike action, with a 48-hour stoppage and the provision of emergency care only from 8am on Tuesday January 26.

On Wednesday February 10, there will be a full withdrawal of labour from 8am to 5pm.

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