‘Tired doctors will make poor decisions’, say picketing Northampton General Hospital medics

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Junior doctors have been picketing Northampton General Hospital on the first day of their 24-hour strike.

Members of the British Medical Association are in dispute with the Government over a proposed change to their contract.

Ministers say it will allow a fuller service at weekends - when a disproportionate number of deaths happen - but doctors are worried about safeguards for excessive hours being weakened.

NGH junior doctors - meaning any doctor below consultant level - who were in Cliftonville today (where many passing drivers tooted their support) said the effects would be seen on patients.

Dr Katy McDowall, who works in obstetrics and gynaecology, said: “We feel really bad that people have had their operations cancelled.

“But the issue we are fighting for is that none of us want to be too tired to do their best work.”

Dr Vaishali Naik, a GP, added: “You make doctors tired and they will not be making great decisions.”

The 24-hour strike, which ends at 8am tomorrow (Wednesday) sees doctors at NGH providing only emergency cover, likened to Christmas Day levels.

Similar industrial action is planned for 48 hours from Tuesday, January 26.

And a full withdrawal of doctors’ labour is scheduled for 8am to 5pm on Wednesday, February 10.

Many junior doctors feel that, regarding their hours, keeping the status quo would be acceptable.

But if the Government is determined to have a consistent seven-day-a- week hospital service, the BMA believes more money needs to be invested to fund staff right across the hospital.

Another big sticking point is the potential erosion of guarantees that ensure medics cannot be forced to work excessive hours.

Most do so voluntarily, but are concerned that a new contract would open the door to exhausting schedules

Dr Phiannh Tonnu said: “Recently I have worked 108 hours over eight days. What would happen to the next person who comes in to do my job?”

Leader of the Labour Group in Northampton, Councillor Danielle Stone, has backed the strike action.

“Labour in Northampton is unequivocally supporting the junior doctor’s strike today as it is the right thing to do.

“Junior doctors rightly point out even the rise in basic pay won’t make up for the overtime they will lose elsewhere, it amounts to a pay cut.

“The British Medical Association balloted its members on industrial action and the comprehensive result smashed through even the tough strike threshold being proposed by the Conservatives in their ridiculous Trade Union Bill.

“The changes to contracts will mean drastically longer working hours for doctors, and big reductions in pay as well. This will demoralise clinicians and endanger patients. These changes are driven by underinvestment and a need to fulfil the Conservatives’ election pledge for a “seven day NHS” at no extra cost.

“Ultimately, this is an attack on the soul of the NHS, which needs the goodwill of doctors and not just doctors, but nurses and other staff as well.

“Labour councillors and Labour Party members will be visiting the picket line at Northampton General Hospital throughout the day to offer their unwavering support and solidarity with junior doctors.”