BMA hails overwhelming turnout as thousands join junior doctor strikes

BMA leaders have repeated calls for the government to drop plans to impose a new contract on junior doctors as tens of thousands joined the first all-out strikes in NHS history at 150 picket lines across England on Tuesday and Wednesday.

BMA leaders said 'more or less all' doctors eligible to take part in the unprecedented full walk-out by junior doctors did so on Tuesday. Figures released by NHS England suggested 78% of junior doctors expected to turn up for work on Tuesday did not report for duty.

The union said junior doctors 'deeply regret' taking strike action, but had been left with no choice by the government's 'refusal to negotiate'.

BMA junior doctors committee chairman Dr Johann Malawana said: 'The overwhelming turnout at almost 150 picket lines across England today shows the strength of feeling among junior doctors against the government’s plans. Tens of thousands protested against a contract they believe is unfair and damaging to patient care in the long term.

'Figures indicate that more or less all of those eligible to take action today did so, and are in line with the proportion of junior doctors who are members of the BMA.

Junior doctor strikes

'Junior doctors deeply regret the disruption to patients and are taking this action as a last resort and with a heavy heart, but the government’s refusal to negotiate has left them with no option but to take short term action to protect the NHS in the long term.'

The junior doctors committee chairman urged the government to drop plans to impose the contract and bring the BMA back to the negotiating table.

An appeal from health secretary Jeremy Hunt for a return to talks ahead of the strike action was rejected by the BMA. BMA chairman Dr Mark Porter said the union would not return to talks with the 'threat of imposition hanging over our heads'.

NHS England released figures suggesting that 12,700 elective appointments and 112,856 outpatient appointments had been postponed over the 18 April to 2 May period in which strikes have taken place.

NHS England national incident director Dr Anne Rainsberry said: 'The NHS exists to help the sick and people in need and we’d like to sincerely apologise to the more than a hundred thousand people facing disruption during this strike alone, as well as the thousands more affected over the last few months.

'This is an unprecedented situation and staff across the NHS have made herculean efforts to ensure continued safe services for patients, which is always our top priority. However the escalation of this action does bring heightened risk and we are continuing to vigilantly monitor the picture across the whole of the country.'

Photo: Neil Roberts

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