Stephanie Boland
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Junior doctors on why they are on strike

We catch up with some junior doctors striking outside the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel, East London.

Akhtar, GP registrar

Why are you on strike?

“The contract isn’t fair on junior doctors. Overall we get less pay and more hours, and more antisocial hours.”

Are you worried about the safety of your patients?

“Absolutely I’m worried. I’ve been working for the last four or five years. If you saw the amount of hours we do, we don’t get breaks often, we have to stay longer for handover; you always do more hours than are counted. We get exhausted after a 13-hour shift; sometimes we do five days of 12-hour shifts, and now we have to do seven days. It’ll affect me and I believe patients as well. At the end of the day, if you’re tired, it can affect your decision-making.”

Emily, paediatrics

Why are you on strike?

“Solidarity. We’ve got to stay together in this. It’s really unsafe and stretching services too far: what we have at the moment is a five-day schedule, and they want to stretch that to seven days without adding any other services like radiographers, porters or nurses. We’re not going to get the back-up, so we’re not going to be able to provide a very safe service.”

What about the government's offer of an 11 per cent payrise?

“I think that’s quite misleading. What they’re doing is cutting our pay for antisocial hours – that at the moment makes up about a third of our pay. It’s particularly going to affect the specialists who work the longest and most antisocial hours. They’re going to see the biggest cut. There’ll be a payrise for a small proportion of doctors, but only those working nine-to-five.”

“At paediatrics, we work a lot of antisocial hours and a lot of nights. It’s going to hit us really hard, as well as A&E and anaesthetists; these are the specialities that are really hard to recruit to anyway. With the pay cut as well, it’s going to be hard to recruit people.”

What would you say to the public, some of whom are affected by these strikes?

“It’s difficult to know what to believe in the media, and there’s a lot of spin from the government . . . but there’s a lot of information available about the contract changes. I think looking at it will show that they are actually unfair.

I know there’s a lot of criticism about us striking as well, but we don’t want to be on strike. It’s for the longer-term future of the NHS we’re doing it. We want to have an NHS for our grandchildren – and further.”

Santal, orthopedics

Why are you on strike?

“To support the junior doctors. I think the government proposals are unfair; the junior doctors are not asking for a hike in their wages. They’re just doing their work, and I think what Jeremy Hunt is proposing is unfair and totally unfair to the general public.”

How would you respond to Jeremy Hunt’s claims that he's offering you a payrise?

“That is an absolute con. He’s actually proposing a cut in the wages. As everyone knows, junior doctors work incredibly long hours; sometimes half their hours are antisocial, sometimes a third – it depends on the department. Because of that, there’s a banding of pay. He’s going to abolish that and change the weekend hours, so overall there’s going to be a big pay cut.

He’s fooling the public, trying to push these things through. We just want to be left alone.”

Is there a patient safety concern?

“Certainly. This is the starting step; if he follows this through there’s going to be an unfair working environment for doctors. They’re going to be tired and exhausted, and that’ll affect their care of the patients. It’s not going to be safe. We’re not just concerned with doctor’s pay, it’s about delivering safe healthcare.”

“I think if the public look at the figures for themselves, they’ll know the government is trying to mislead people.”

Tom, paediatrics

Why are you on strike?

“It’s really because Jeremy Hunt is trying to impose this new contract, which is unsafe for patients; that’s the point. And it’s unfair for us doctors, as well.”

Are hours and conditions a primary concern?

“It’s primarily about conditions and safety. Of course, it’s about money as well; we all have to do a job and support our families. But the main factor here is safety, and the longevity of the NHS. If things are going to carry on the way they are, they’re going to break the NHS.”

Nabil, trainee surgeon

Why are you on strike?

“It’s not about cash for us. It’s about safety, and about making sure that going forward as a professional body we feel able to do our job.

I’m quite a senior trainee now, and it’s about the medical students coming through. Only people who can afford to be doctors will go to medical school.

Do you want Tim Nice-But-Dim taking out your appendix? I don’t.”

What about the hours?

“As a surgical trainee, I choose to work really long hours. But no one should force me to do that, and getting forced to do that feels pretty miserable.”

Stephanie Boland is digital assistant at the New Statesman. She tweets at @stephanieboland

Photo: Getty
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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn prompts Tory outrage as he blames Grenfell Tower fire on austerity

To Conservative cries of "shame on you!", the Labour leader warned that "we all pay a price in public safety" for spending cuts.

A fortnight after the Grenfell Tower fire erupted, the tragedy continues to cast a shadow over British politics. Rather than probing Theresa May on the DUP deal, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of forensic questions on the incident, in which at least 79 people are confirmed to have died.

In the first PMQs of the new parliament, May revealed that the number of buildings that had failed fire safety tests had risen to 120 (a 100 per cent failure rate) and that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was "non-compliant" with building regulations (Corbyn had asked whether it was "legal").

After several factual questions, the Labour leader rose to his political argument. To cries of "shame on you!" from Tory MPs, he warned that local authority cuts of 40 per cent meant "we all pay a price in public safety". Corbyn added: “What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed is the disastrous effects of austerity. The disregard for working-class communities, the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners." Corbyn noted that 11,000 firefighters had been cut and that the public sector pay cap (which Labour has tabled a Queen's Speech amendment against) was hindering recruitment. "This disaster must be a wake-up call," he concluded.

But May, who fared better than many expected, had a ready retort. "The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition governments, the cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government," she said. “In 2005 it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirements to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority to a 'responsible person'." In this regard, however, Corbyn's lack of frontbench experience is a virtue – no action by the last Labour government can be pinned on him. 

Whether or not the Conservatives accept the link between Grenfell and austerity, their reluctance to defend continued cuts shows an awareness of how politically vulnerable they have become (No10 has announced that the public sector pay cap is under review).

Though Tory MP Philip Davies accused May of having an "aversion" to policies "that might be popular with the public" (he demanded the abolition of the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target), there was little dissent from the backbenches – reflecting the new consensus that the Prime Minister is safe (in the absence of an attractive alternative).

And May, whose jokes sometimes fall painfully flat, was able to accuse Corbyn of saying "one thing to the many and another thing to the few" in reference to his alleged Trident comments to Glastonbury festival founder Michael Eavis. But the Labour leader, no longer looking fearfully over his shoulder, displayed his increased authority today. Though the Conservatives may jeer him, the lingering fear in Tory minds is that they and the country are on divergent paths. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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