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It was a day for junior doctors to tell their story. But it was also an opportunity to listen.
Industrial action was always a last resort for junior doctors, and taken because the alternative was a contract that threatened patient care. It was also a wholly new experience for the juniors involved.
So as they arrived outside their hospitals at 8am on 12 January, there was an element of the unexpected. They knew where to stand, thanks to some excellent stewarding, they certainly knew why they were there, and they knew that in their hospitals there were countless examples of colleagues stepping up to cover their work.
What they didn’t know, after weeks of misinformation about their motives, was how they would be received by the wider world.
Oxford ST2 in cardiology Rachel Clarke, pictured right with ST3 in ophthalmology Nadia Randazzo, had an overwhelmingly positive experience.
‘We had grandparents bringing us hot coffee on the freezing picket line, mums and their pre-schoolers bringing us homemade cakes, and so many honks of support from the passing cars it was almost deafening.’
According to reports from around the country, the response from a clear majority of the public was positive. Not unanimous, obviously, but if anything even more clearly supportive than the IPSOS MORI poll published on the morning of the action which found 66 per cent in favour, and only 16 per cent against.
Whatever the views expressed by the public, it was clear they welcomed the chance to talk directly to the junior doctors affected. They didn’t even need to go to the picket lines to do so.
In dozens of town and city centres around the country, doctors set out stalls, distributed leaflets and listened to the public’s stories, support and concerns.
For Dr Clarke it was an opportunity to cut through the misleading announcements and news stories that have even suggested they refused to work weekends, when they already did and always have, or that the dispute was about money rather than fundamental issues of fairness and safety.
Starting the day outside her hospital, she later went into the centre of Oxford with 200 colleagues and supporters.
‘We were chanting, singing, handing out leaflets – but above all we were talking to our local community.
‘What was wonderful is the people I was chatting to didn’t believe the spin doctors’ lines on why we’re striking - they believe the real doctors.
‘They know we would never leave our patients without good reason, and they understood we were there for one reason alone - to stand up for the safety of our patients and our NHS.
‘The Government spins a great line on being committed to improving weekend services, yet it isn’t willing to spend penny of new money actually funding better weekends. With no money for new doctors, that means the existing ones - us - will be worked even longer and harder than we already are, and we just can’t do that.
‘We give and we give and we give for our patients. Our hours and shifts are already gruelling. We just cannot work harder to provide new weekend services for a government that’s unwilling actually to fund them.’
There is a cliché that a doctor at a party will always be a magnet for those wanting to share their health stories. If you put several dozen of them in a public place, the effect magnifies.
People support the NHS in principle, but they also support it in practice because of the care they, their friends and family have received.
We are collecting the stories given directly to doctors or sent to the BMA, prompted by the junior doctors’ action. Some are reproduced below.
They made a difficult day better, and a chance to celebrate everything that was positive about being a junior doctor in the health service – everything, in fact that junior doctors are determined to keep through their struggle for a safe and fair contract.
Neil Hallows is content editor at the BMA
What have patients told you in connection with the contract dispute? Use the comments section below or email [email protected]
Find out more about the junior doctors contract dispute
Jeffrey Lever from north London joined doctors at Barnet General Hospital’s picket line in a show of solidarity and support.
Mr Lever, who last year spent 18 days at the hospital following life-saving treatment for a heart condition, said that his experiences as a patient had left him with a profound respect for junior doctors and sympathy for their plight.
He said: ‘The people who saved my life were hospital doctors and I want to support every member of staff in that hospital who has a justified grievance.
‘In hospital for 18 days, you get a chance to think about stuff, and in a ward you [as a patient] see everything that happens. It is not hard to see what motivates people in their work and I was very impressed by what I saw at all levels.’
Mr Lever said that he was concerned with the Government’s handling of the contract negotiations, warning that junior doctors were being treated unfairly.
He felt that negotiations on a seven-day service were being manipulated to take advantage of the doctors on their rates of pay, and their hours of work, which he said were already dangerously long in many cases.
He said: ‘Junior doctors are the guts of a highly skilled workforce. We’re losing these people [junior doctors] to other countries and we shouldn’t be doing that. We have a jewel of an industry in the form of the NHS – the biggest employer in Europe.’
‘They [junior doctors] do a fantastic job, and the care and attention and the consideration shown by people under a lot of work pressure has been fantastic.'
This week’s industrial action inspired Peter Newborne to write a letter to his MP expressing his concerns about the contract dispute.
He is no stranger to the NHS and junior doctors having just last week undergone an operation at Kingston Hospital in London for a hernia operation.
Mr Newborne, who is a self-employed researcher in social and environmental issues, wrote to Twickenham Conservative MP Tania Mathias having seen media reports of yesterday’s industrial action by junior doctors.
He writes: ‘Doctors strike so rarely and exceptionally that my starting point has been to listen carefully to their reasons. In this circumstance, it is very much a case of ‘no smoke without fire’. I feel sure the junior doctors are not taking the action lightly – far from it.’
Mr Newborne adds: ‘If I were in their shoes, I too would want to see clear and explicit contractual conditions, instead of the ‘assurances’ that are being made by the health secretary.’
The Twickenham resident told the BMA that he received excellent care in hospitals.
‘It was a routine procedure for the hospital but it wasn’t for me. The care was great, which is what I’ve come to expect from the NHS. I went in at 7.30am and was back home at 1.30pm,’ he said.
‘I have been listening very carefully to the reports about the strike and I don’t like the way the Government has handled it and I think the public are being misled. The health secretary keeps talking on the media about gaps in weekend healthcare, implying that the junior doctors are somehow responsible - as if they do not already work long hours including at weekends.’
'At this hospital people like you (maybe you) delivered my baby safely when I was over 24 hours in, had dangerously high [blood pressure] and was overdue. Then when my daughter was six months old you saved my life when I had an allergic reaction to penicillin.
Cheers. Have some muffins.
Solidarity for your cause. Anyone who doesn't appreciate what you're all fighting for is an idiot.'
(The contents of a greeting card handed to doctors, along with a plate of muffins)
Seven-year-old cancer patient Gruff Crowther (pictured below) knows the importance of junior doctors being well rested.
He was diagnosed with a brain tumour at the age of five and immediately started an 18-month course of chemotherapy at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital.
Gruff is responding well to treatment although he has been in and out of hospital ever since, and notices ‘the younger doctors’ who treat him.
Gruff was receiving chemotherapy on the day of industrial action on 12 January but when he was feeling a bit better the schoolboy from north Wales said: ‘They should be allowed to sleep so they can write more notes about what they’re doing.'
His father, Richard, added: ‘... by which Gruff means do their jobs effectively.'
Gruff also said: ‘Their work is very important as it helps people, and that's very kind.’
He is raising money for the childhood cancer charity CLIC Sargent and he has released a song for which he wrote music and the lyrics.
Read more on his Twitter account, which is run by ‘his adults’.
As a retired doctor, I know insufficient about the arguments to express a view on the merits/demerits of strike action. All I would say is please be careful how you interpret public support - it is not a measure of the strength of your arguments and nothing can turn so quickly as the public mood.
If we devalue Doctors we devalue Education and Knowedge ,the cornerstones of a civilised society without them we are lost. Don't let the Medical Profession suffer the same fate as the Teaching Profession.
It's a joke to comment that doctors are putting patient's life at risk. We are seeking 'guilty pleasures' by excessive eating, smoking, drinking and drug taking etc.putting our life at risk and not doctors by going on strike for few hours or even few days. In our GP surgery hundreds of patients every month fail to turn up or cancel the appointments too late depriving other patients.
We all should help the NHS to run the present 5 day service efficiently instead of demanding 7 days which will affect not just the junior doctors but consultants and nursing staff as well. Doctors trained by tax payers will Emigrate and eventually NHS will shut down. Therefore let us support the doctors and help NHS to continue to benefit the present and future generations.
I completely support the juniors, its a shame its come to this, however what lies ahead in terms of consultant contract reforms etc is equally bad
as a consultant with more than 5 years under my belt, I've seen the level of clinical demands spiralling bureacracy, escalate sky high , with consultants often having to follow idiotic dictats by non clinical managers chasing their own careers.
And a downward spiralling in pay and working conditions, I would not recommend a career in medicine with morale at an all time low
If David Cameron is a sensible leader, he should sack Jeremy Hunt and appoint a new health Secretary who possesses common sense to talk to the junior doctors and address their just concerns and bring this dispute to a speedy end for the benefit of the patients and the public at large.
How can I show solidarity and support for the brave junior doctors in their struggle to uphold the future of tertiary medical care? I have a son who wants to be a surgeon and will be applying to study medicine this October. So I have a vested interest. Also I work on the front line in criminal justice trying to provide a professional level of service despite having to cope with severe staff shortages and increasing bureacracry.