England's junior doctors began a 48-hour walkout on 9 March, following the imposition of a new contract by the Secretary for Health, Jeremy Hunt. The government wants to introduce changes in the way doctors are being paid. The main sticking point is over weekend pay and whether Saturdays should be classed as normal working days. Junior doctors are currently paid a premium at weekend.
Hunt told parliament last month that he would force through the contract from August, after accusing the doctor's union, the British Medical Association (BMA), of being unwilling to compromise in negotiations. Holly Cooper, a junior doctor and a singer in the National Health Service choir which joined the picket line in south London's St George's Hospital, said the contractual dispute is demoralising for doctors and held Hunt responsible.
"It's a very stressful job, high intensity and to have the government, particularly our secretary of state for health telling us that we're not listening to you, you're saying that the contract isn't suitable and it's not what you want, but I'm just going to impose it anyway. That's only going to demoralise us further," Cooper said.
The junior doctors, or doctors in training who represent just over half of all doctors in the National Health Service (NHS), held one-day strikes in January and February, the likes of which had not been seen in Britain for 40 years. The reforms apply only to the NHS in England. The regional governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have direct responsibility for their own health services.
"There are chronic shortages of doctors and nurses, and this contract is going to spread us even more thinly over seven days and it will definitely exacerbate those problems and it will also make people leave the country," said Dr Sophie Herbert.
Core surgical trainee Dr Alex Trevatt, who has been working in the profession for more than two years, said: "I have never heard so many people say that they are considering either leaving the profession completely or at least leaving the country and going to work somewhere else; Either Scotland, Wales or going as far as Australia, New Zealand. This is something that is really impacting on the whole profession at large."
Further strikes are planned in April, if the dispute between the government and the union continues.