A second 24-hour strike was abided by thousands of junior doctors from hospitals of all England after the failure of contract negotiations against proposed new conditions and pay rates for working unsociable hours.
The first 24-hour strike was staged on January 12, being the first in 40 years. Both are the result of a contract dispute over pay and working conditions between the government and the British Medical Association (BMA). Their disagreement relies on whether Saturday should be treated and paid as a normal working day.
The second strike started on Wednesday morning and is due to finish 8:00 am on Thursday. The junior doctors, which are all medics below consultant level, will only provide emergency medical care during the course of the strike.
According to the National Health Service England (NHS England), nearly 3,000 operations have been postponed and many more are likely to be affected. Dr. Anne Rainsberry, national director for NHS England, said the National Health Service is doing everything possible to minimize the impact of the strike.
Prime Minister David Cameron says the reforms are needed to help create a “seven days a week” NHS where the quality of care is as high at the weekends as on weekdays. Studies have shown that mortality on weekends is higher than on weekdays, which led the government to do something about it.
The main problem is that the government wants Saturdays to be classed as a normal working day, but the BMA opposes to it since it forgets about patients safety and nighttime shift patterns. BMA has said it will forgo half of the 11% rise in basic pay that has been offered to keep Saturday premium payments.
Abhishek Joshi, a heart doctor at St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London, said the new contracts could stop hospital operators from being penalized if tired doctors work prolonged shifts which can be dangerous: “There have been studies to show that tired doctors are even worse than drunk drivers. Would you want a drunk driver operating on you?… Saving your heart in the middle of the night? That’s not what we want.”
Doctor Johann Malawana, BMA junior doctors’ leader, said the strike was a big rejection of the government trying to impose an unfair contract. Junior doctors already work several hours, seven days a week and they do so under an existing contract: “If the government wants more seven-day services then, quite simply, they need more doctors, nurses and diagnostic staff, and the extra investment needed to deliver it.” She also said that the government should consider the NHS and patients before politics.
As the tension rises, a conclusion is needed right away. Hospital leaders and patient groups have urged the two sides to reach an agreement. According to Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, the ideal conclusion would be that employers offer a fair reasonable deal and the BMA to accept it.