Doctors protest
Doctors protest against changes to their contracts in a protest in London earlier in the yearVictoria Briscoe (@drvlb12) via Twitter

Thousands of junior doctors are planning to take the streets of London today (17 October) to demonstrate against changes to their contracts in England. The medics are expected to march in protest at the changes which they say will lead to a drop in their salaries.

Critics say the new conditions would see junior doctors' pay cut by up to 40%, whilst changing normal working hours to include Saturdays and late evenings.

"I'm marching today to show support to my junior colleagues," Cambridge-based acute and general medicine consultant, Dr Gupta told the IB Times.

Until two months ago, when she qualified as a consultant, Dr Gupta said she had spent 11 years as a junior doctor. She feels that the contract changes are telling junior doctors that the UK government does not value them and they should work longer hours for less money.

"Being told that you are not good enough, when you are already working incredibly long hours and paying thousands of pounds of your own money for training is unacceptable, so I'm here to support them in their fight," she said.

Seven-day NHS plans

The changes are part of the government's plan to create a 'seven-day NHS'. Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has said that the proposals would benefit doctors by reducing their maximum weekly working hours. He has also accused the British Medical Association (BMA) of misleading junior doctors over the changes, telling BBC's Radio 4's Today programme that a reduction in overtime rates would be compensated with extra basic pay.

"This is a good deal for doctors. We are reducing the maximum hours a doctor can be asked to work from 91 to 72 hours [a week]," said Hunt. "We're stopping doctors being asked to work for five nights in a row."

He added that he wanted to remove financial penalties "that force hospitals to roster less at weekends" and claimed he was willing to negotiate over safeguards that will stop doctors from working too many hours.

Dr Johann Malawana, chairman of the BMA junior doctors' committee denied the organisation has misled doctors, adding that the rally would be "a wake-up call for ministers". Hunt nonetheless told Today that if he was in their shoes and he was being told about the kind of changes being talked about he "would be very angry as well".

"So you'd be out on the streets today?" the presenter John Humphrys asked. "Yes, but we aren't [imposing those changes]," Hunt said.

Dr Gupta told the IBT that Jeremy Hunt's "claims that doctors were too stupid to understand the new contracts are insulting".

"He's saying that we can't read and can't work out what's going on," she said. "I think it's been proven for many, many years that everything they say is absolute rubbish."

The concern is that the changes will lead to doctors deciding to leave the NHS, something she and her colleagues had thought about a number of times, she said.

"It's not a case of people throwing their toys out of the pram," she added. "But you get to the point where you wonder what the point is."

She added that she hoped there would be a good turnout at the London march. Marches are also expected in Nottingham and Belfast.

Northern Ireland has yet to decide on the new contract while, Scotland and Wales have both said they will maintain the old contract.

Celebrities, such as The Great British Bake Off host Sue Perkins, have taken to social media to show their support.

The marches follow last month's demonstration outside Downing Street when negotiations between NHS Employers and the BMA broke down. Strike action is also on the cards if the two sides fail to reach agreement, although Hunt called on the BMA to return to the negotiating table.

"If they do go on strike it would be with a heavy heart," said Dr Gupta. "A doctor's priority is always their patients. That's what we're there for… But they will be doing it to make sure patients don't suffer."