Junior doctors stage night-long vigil outside DH in bid to end contract imposition

Junior doctors gathered outside DH headquarters for a candlelit vigil on Monday evening, followed by a night-long protest to persuade health secretary Jeremy Hunt to drop the contract imposition and avert strike action.

Junior doctors Dr Rachel Clarke and Dr Dagan Lonsdale outside the DH
Junior doctors Dr Rachel Clarke and Dr Dagan Lonsdale outside the DH

Junior doctors – including BMA junior doctors committee leader Dr Johann Malawana – met outside DH headquarters on Whitehall, Westminster from 6pm to stage a candlelit vigil protest against the contract imposition in a final attempt to prevent all-out strike action.

Junior doctors Dr Rachel Clarke and Dr Dagan Lonsdale, who began their ‘indefinite, peaceful’ protest outside Richmond House almost two weeks ago on 13 April, remained throughout the night to be available for any last-ditch talks.

This marks a culmination of action that has seen junior doctors stationed outside Richmond House for 12 hours a day since, alongside an empty chair emblazoned with Mr Hunt’s name.

Junior doctor contract

The group hoped to persuade Mr Hunt to halt imposition of the disputed junior doctor contract and allow the BMA to return to talks ahead of imminent all-out junior doctor strikes, set to commence at 8am tomorrow morning.

Mr Hunt has it in his power to make the decision and re-enter talks until ‘as late as 7.59am on Tuesday morning’, they said.

The BMA and DH have reached an impasse, with the BMA saying it will only re-enter negotiations if the health secretary agrees to stop imposition of the new contract.

Mr Hunt has offered to return to talks with the BMA, but has ruled out halting imposition, claiming it is now too late to prevent without causing ‘unacceptable disruption for the NHS’.

It comes as a survey carried out by Justice for Health – a campaign group established by five junior doctors including two GP trainees – released statistics that suggest 99.7% of junior doctors are against the government’s contract proposals.

More than three quarters of junior doctors (78%) intend on joining the full walk-out, the survey results of over 1,100 junior doctors suggest.

Just 4.6% said they planned to cross picket lines. The rest are ineligible for strike action, because they are either not due to work on those days, are scheduled to work night shifts outside of the strike timetable or are on military or non-NHS contracts.

Junior doctor strike

Dr Clarke, a junior doctor in Oxford, said: ‘None of us can understand why Jeremy Hunt is burying his head in the sand and refusing to talk when we are on the brink of an all-out strike.

‘The Patients Association, every single medical Royal College, grassroots doctors and even some of his own MPs are publicly calling on his to stop imposing this regressive contract. We all have a duty here to put patients first and do everything possible to avert further strikes. If patient safety really mattered to Jeremy Hunt, he’d be back at the negotiating table already.’

Dr Lonsdale, an intensive care registrar in London, said: ‘I am here because I have a duty to raise concerns about the safety of patients within the NHS.

‘It is unbelievable that David Cameron and Jeremy Hunt have chosen to ignore 54,000 whistle-blowers. I am here to remind them of their responsibilities as guardians of the NHS and to implore them to return to talks. Political leaders should be working with the profession to solve problems and improve care, not simply bulldoze concerns into the dust.

‘Doctors like me have dedicated our lives to providing safe and effective care for others. We have no interest in healthcare policy that is driven by sound bite electioneering.’

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