London – Junior doctors have gone on strike for the first time since 1975 in a dispute with the government over a new contract that includes a new payment and working hours.

About 38,000 members of the British Medical Association (BMA) took the streets at 8am on Tuesday for the first schedule 24-hour strike. About 45,000 Junior Doctors will walk out one more time for a second strike, which will last 48 hours between January 26th and 28th if a settlement is not reached this week.

Striking junior doctors in Leeds have revealed that they are hoping to travel to flood-battered Kirkstall to help with the relief effort today. Photo: Yorkshire Evening Post/Getty Images


The first walkout, which will end on Wednesday at 8am, came after talks between the union and government failed to reach agreement on the proposed new contract. The strike has left so far 4,000 non-emergency operations cancelled and thousands more patient appointments rescheduled as more than 100 hospitals joined in the protest against new payments and conditions.

Doctors agreed to provide emergency care for the first of two planned strikes, but they have threatened not to do so in the third strike, which is programed for February.

Just two hours after the strike began, doctors were told to return to their wards, However, The BMA, said they should refuse to do so until the seriousness of the situation had been established through the correct process.

Dr. Anne De Bray, who has worked at the hospital for a year, said her first reaction to the letter was to cry.

“It’s been well planned. They said they would call us individually if they needed us to come back into work. Instead they’ve emailed us a letter that was dated yesterday, 15 minutes before our picket line was due to start. I just think they’ve not done it through the proper channels. If there had been a major incident like a terrorist attack or road accident we would drop our placards and head in.” De Bray added.

Another striking doctor, who wished to remain anonymous, said they had received the letter saying the situation had been ongoing for some days. “We were not called in at the weekends to provide extra cover to discharge patients, so why are we getting called in now?” he asked.

The health secretary Jeremy Hunt said he proposed the new contract because the existing one is unfair to them and patients and that his goal was to ensure that junior doctors were working at weekends as statistics showed people with serious conditions such as strokes were more likely to die over the weekend. But the BMA has stressed how “angry and let down” trainee medics feel about Hunt’s decision to impose a new contract that most see as castigatory.

However, the BMA, NHS Employers and the Department of Health all said that their organizations are willing to find a way through and that an agreement would finally be reached.

“Nobody wants to go through all this nonsense again. So yes, there’s a degree of optimism. With the strike over, we have a cautious optimism that we can make some progress,” an official close to the talks said.

Source: The Guardian