Junior doctor: The prospect of more strikes is daunting

Dr Aoife Abbey

As junior doctors in hospitals across England go on strike for 24 hours today, junior doctor Aoife Abbey writes for ITV News on why she is on the picket line outside Alexandra Hospital in Redditch, Worcestershire, and what she fears for the future of the NHS.

Across England today junior doctor strikes began.

Trusts were supported by their usual quota of junior doctors covering emergency/on-call work along with an increased contingency for consultant presence.

As a junior doctor, my role in this dispute has been driven by three central demands - I require a contract which is fair to doctors, safe for patients and supportive of the NHS as an institution.

It is clear however that the longer this dispute plays out in the media, the more likely it is to get engulfed by ‘seven day service’ rhetoric, misuse of ‘weekend mortality’ statistics and political rivalry.

Continuing to use these issues to muddy the waters of what are actually pretty straightforward issues may be beneficial to some agendas of course but I can say that it certainly is not beneficial for me or, more importantly, for my patients.

So although standing outside my place of work, Alexandra Hospital in Redditch, Worcestershire, sign in hand, was an experience which I never expected or wanted to have, being far removed from the soundbites and interviews dominating mainstream media was actually very helpful for me.

Junior doctors have gone on strike across England Credit: Dr Aoife Abbey

The NHS is an institution which must always be “of the people, by the people, for the people”. This morning I had the privilege of being able to speak directly with lots of people who depend on my hospital.

I will admit I found myself surprised by the sheer scale of overwhelming support we received from those that passed us and for today their show of solidarity meant more to me then any statement from NHS employers or the Department of Health ever could have.

Misinformation is the enemy of all campaigns. In the case of junior doctors, the fact that we have not asked for any sort of pay rise has been near impossible to disperse.

Similarly if I told you that I already work one in three weekends and if the hospital wanted me to work one in two or even every weekend they would not have to pay me any more money, would you be surprised?

Doctors want to make clear the reasons why they are striking Credit: Dr Aoife Abbey

Yes, on my current contract and current wages, I could work every second weekend and it would not cost the trust a single penny more! The reason this doesn’t happen is because the hospital could not do without my service during the week.

The message that junior doctors want to make clear to our patients and their families is that we all already support the ideal of a service which provides high quality care to every patient every minute of every day.

When the news reached my picket line that one hospital trust had been forced to request recall of junior doctors, my colleagues and I were not surprised in the slightest. The reason that hospital found itself in such a situation was of course nothing to do with junior doctors or their current contract.

Aoife said she spoke to members of the public who use her hospital on the picket line Credit: Dr Aoife Abbey

The fact is that hospitals up and down the country are struggling to cope with increased demands in the face of punishing efficiency savings.

The answer to the ‘seven day service’ question will only come when the Department of Health own up to the the expanded funding, increase in support services and evidenced based planning needed to achieve this goal.

Junior doctors are engaged in this dispute because we firmly believe it is important to the future of care within the NHS. As a doctor however, I want to assure you that I will always respect that there are millions of vulnerable, sick patients and their families who do not have the luxury of prioritising anything but their next few hours.

Passionate as I am therefore about our struggle, I will not pretend that the idea of further industrial action is not immensely daunting for me. Balancing and respecting the needs of patients against my own is part of my business every day and this has not changed. I will therefore be waiting to see what developments occur in the coming weeks before committing to any further action.

To the people I spoke to on the picket line today, as well as every other member of the public, I want to say thank you for sticking with us this far. I want to say that my junior doctor colleagues and I remain united; not just in standing up for our profession, but in standing up for you.

  • These are the personal views of Dr Aoife Abbey.

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