Junior doctors launch three-day strike kicking off a week of walkouts by several unions
Health and Science Editor Emily Morgan reports on the start of the three-day strike by junior doctors over pay and conditions
Tens of thousands of junior doctors have gone on strike across England, with the NHS bracing itself for three days of mass disruption.
The 72-hour walkout, which began on Monday morning, will see operations and appointments cancelled for thousands of patients as doctors join picket lines outside their hospitals.
More than 100,000 appointments have already been postponed this winter after nurses took strike action in a dispute with the government over pay, according to NHS figures.
The British Medical Association (BMA) is demanding a substantial pay rise for doctors, with its latest campaign saying junior medics could earn more per hour if they worked in Pret A Manger.
Members of the BMA in England mounted picket lines outside hospitals across the country in the longest ever period of strikes by junior doctors.
One striking doctor told ITV News: “I’ve had times where I go home and I’m crying. I wake up because I’m worried about a patient and my pay is £14 an hour. That’s not fair.”
£14.09 is the lowest possible basic hourly pay for the lowest rank of junior doctors - but only if you also do not count roughly seven weeks of paid holiday.
As fact-checking organisation FullFact have said, the average hourly wage for the average junior doctor depends on a variety of factors, and the typical range is between £20 and £30.
The strikes come as members of several trade unions will strike on Budget day, on Wednesday, in what will be one of the biggest single days of industrial action for years.
Workers taking action include teachers, university staff and London Underground drivers, with rallies and demonstrations due to be held across the country, including a big protest in Westminster.
The BMA says junior doctors’ pay has fallen in real terms by 26% since 2008/09 and reversing this would require a 35.3% pay rise.
Last Friday, Health Secretary Steve Barclay invited the BMA to talks but the union rejected the idea, saying there were “unacceptable” preconditions.
The preconditions are understood to have included looking at a non-consolidated lump sum payment for last year.
Junior doctors make up around 45% of the NHS’s medical workforce and consultants and other medics have been drafted in to provide strike cover in areas such as A&E.
Patient John Carroll spoke of his frustration at the strikes. Blood flow to his feet is so bad he might lose a toe and an operation he’s waited two years for was supposed to improve his condition. However, it has now been cancelled amid the strikes. “I know if I lose my toes, my balance is going to be gone. I just feel so let down, because you can’t turn to anybody,” he told ITV News.
Professor Stephen Powis, medical director of NHS England, told Times Radio that cancer care is likely to affected by the strikes, which will hit the health service with "extensive disruption".
He said the NHS is doing "everything we can to ensure that urgent cancer procedures go ahead but, unfortunately, even some of those may be affected this week, such is the extent of the disruption that we’re likely to see".
"If that does occur, we will reschedule people as quickly as possible," he added.
Nick Hulme, chief executive of East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust, which runs Ipswich and Colchester hospitals, meanwhile, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme the trust has been looking at patient lists to ensure "those who will suffer significantly clinically, if they’re not operated on in the next three days, they will come in and get their operations".
He added: "But for the overwhelming majority of our patients and operations, sadly we will have to postpone those so that we can reallocate our consultant body mainly to the front door - to the urgent emergency care 24/7 services."
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told reporters on his flight to the US, on Sunday, it is "very disappointing that the junior doctors’ union are not engaging with the government".
Mr Barclay expressed disappointment with the BMA, for having "declined my offer to enter formal pay negotiations on the condition strikes are paused".
"I hugely value the hard work of junior doctors and urge unions to come to the negotiating table and cancel strikes which risk patient safety and impact efforts to tackle the backlog," he said.
"I want to find a fair settlement which recognises the crucial role of junior doctors and the wider economic pressures facing the UK.
"I’ve been having constructive and meaningful talks with unions representing nurses, ambulance workers and other non-medical staff, which have agreed to pause strike action, and negotiations will continue this week.
"We have been working closely with NHS England on contingency plans to help protect patient safety during strikes, prioritising emergency, urgent and critical care - but there will inevitably be some disruption for patients."
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