Some 20,000 doctors and members of the public marched through London on Saturday afternoon to protest against the Government’s proposed junior doctor contract changes.
Doctors, lawyers and political leaders gave speeches in support of junior doctors, including shadow health Secretary Heidi Alexander, 92-year-old NHS activist Harry Leslie Smith and BMA Junior Doctors Committee chair Dr Johann Malawana.
The proposed changes, which would come into effect next August, would extend junior doctors’ plain time hours, so that instead of normal pay being given for hours worked Monday to Friday 7am to 7pm with hours outside of that paid 20-50% extra, plain time would last until 10pm and include Saturdays.
Marching along Pall Mall and Whitehall, the protesters finally gathered outside Parliament to express their views.
Addressing the health secretary, Dr Malawana said: ’Jeremy Hunt, I have said to you again and again, stop attacking us. What kind of society devalues NHS staff? What kind of society devalues the very staff that deliver frontline services at 2 o’clock in the morning on a Sunday night, and do it because they care about the patients in front of them.’
Ms Alexander said in her speech: ’I’ve come here today, be under no illusion, to send a clear and strong message to David Cameron and Jeremy Hunt, that junior doctors should be paid fairly for the work that they do. I hear you when you say, it might be junior doctor contracts today, but what is it tomorrow?’
Junior doctors also rallied in Belfast over the weekend amid fears that the devolved administration will implement the changes proposed for England.
According to the BMA, propositions do away with contractual safeguards, including a 30-minute break for every four hours worked. Instead, the new contract entitles doctors to one 20-minute break in a shift of up to 11-hours.
The BMA has refused to re-enter negotiations on the contract after a plea from health secretary Jeremy Hunt last week, in which he gave a ‘cast-iron’ guarantee that pay would not fall and suggested he may be open to concessions on Saturday plain time hours.
Mr Hunt had met with Dr Malawana after learning that the BMA isplanning to ballot junior doctors on industrial action.
Junior doctors have until 23 October to update their details with the BMA to ensure they can take part in the ballot.
Speaking to Pulse at Saturday’s protest, BMA GP trainee subcommittee chair Dr Donna Tooth said: ’There are people saying that with the removal of the training supplement, they will no longer be able to afford to train to be a GP.
’There have been some assurances from the government that GP trainees’ pay won’t be affected, however until I see those assurances written down, rock-solid assurances, I can’t reassure my committee and the membership that I represent, that the future of general practice and training is secure and that our salary will be safe.’
Mr Hunt has said he will impose the contract if the BMA does not agree to changes but the Scottish and Welsh Governments have no plans to introduce it. Amid political instability, which included most ministers resigning their posts, the Northern Irish Government has not announced a decision yet.
The marches followed an earlier protest on 28 September, when about 5,000 junior doctors gathered outside Westminster. Doctors also protested on the streets of Manchester during the Conservative Party Conference earlier this month.