Picket lines at West Yorkshire hospitals as junior doctors stage 24-hour walk-out

Junior doctors and medical students protest against the proposed changes to their contracts during a rally in Victoria Gardens, Leeds.Picture: Anna Gowthorpe
Junior doctors and medical students protest against the proposed changes to their contracts during a rally in Victoria Gardens, Leeds.Picture: Anna Gowthorpe

Pickets have been organised outside every major hospital in the county as junior doctors prepare for a mass walk-out today.

The 24-hour period of “emergency care only” staffing among juniors, who are taking industrial action over the Government’s proposed changes to their contracts, will see thousands of clinicians strike from 8am.

NHS bosses have warned that the move will put hospitals under “additional pressure” after trusts across the region sent out letters to patients likely to be affected by the walk-out.

NHS England says 1,425 inpatient operations and procedures will be cancelled as well as more than 2,500 outpatient appointments nationwide as junior doctors prepare to make a huge statement of discontent.

Today’s industrial action comes just over a week after talks between doctors’ union the British Medical Association (BMA) and the Government broke down.

A collective of Yorkshire junior doctors, who were behind the October junior doctor protest in Leeds city centre, said: “To patients and the public, we are sorry. We don’t want to do this. We have no other choice.

“The Government still are not taking us seriously. However, if you are sick there will be teams to care for you and your loved ones.”

There are around 100 picket lines planned today, with junior doctors in Yorkshire expected to demonstrate outside hospitals in Hull, Harrogate, Keighley, Wakefield, Bradford, York, Sheffield and Leeds.

Meanwhile there will be a series of Meet the Doctor engagement events and public first aid workshops running in towns and city centres.

Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust has announced that it is “working hard to minimise disruption” through writing letters to all patients likely to be affected by the strike. Elsewhere Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust has said it will reschedule appointments where “clinically safe to do so” and Harrogate and District NHS Foundation Trust is advising patients not to come in for blood tests today.

The BMA’s other planned strikes include a 48-hour period of emergency care only from January 26 and a full nine-hour walk-out on February 10.

The strikes, announced last Monday, come amid a dispute over the reform of junior doctor contracts. The Government’s offer from November includes an 11 per cent basic pay rise. But this is offset by plans to cut the number of hours on a weekend for which juniors can claim extra pay for unsocial hours.

The BMA says the current offer is “unfair and unsafe” for patients and doctors due to the scrapping of working hour safeguards and the stance on unsocial hours, while the Government claims its changes are essential to its plans for a seven-day NHS.

David Cameron pleaded with junior doctors not to stage the walk-out, saying: “This strike is not necessary, it will be damaging. We are doing everything we can to mitigate its effects but you can’t have a strike on this scale in our NHS without there being some real difficulties for patients and potentially worse.”

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt added that emergency departments all over the country have been contacted to ensure they have enough staff to operate.

Conciliation service Acas has confirmed that talks between the BMA and NHS bosses will continue next week.