Junior doctors stage first of three strikes over contracts.
JUNIOR doctors walked out for the third time yesterday and will remain off duty until tomorrow morning, in the first 48-hour strike of the longrunning dispute over contracts. As in previous strikes, doctors are running an "emergency care only" model in North East hospitals, meaning that non-urgent work such as planned operations and checkups are put on hold, but medical emergencies will still be dealt with.
This strike is the first to take place since Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt announced that he would impose the controversial contracts, with or without doctors' approval.
Dr Tom Gorman, 33, a trainee GP in Consett, County Durham, said: "This is our last resort - this is the only way we can get our message across to the government.
"It's unbelievable that doctors, who you would never normally expect to strike, feel so strongly that they voted overwhelmingly in favour of industrial action. How can a government anger its workforce so much and expect to go on - the NHS relies on a lot of goodwill, doctors arriving early, leaving late, and that goodwill could be lost."
His concerns were echoed by Dr Craig Skiffington, who is in his first year of junior doctor training at Newcastle's Royal Victoria Infirmary.
Dr Skiffington said: "I really enjoy my job, but I've realised how stretched doctors are at the moment, over five days, but if we're asked to extend it to seven it won't be a job we can enjoy. It's not about pay, it's about workers' rights."
This is the first of three 48-hour strikes planned by the British Medical Association (BMA) which will see doctors in the North East withdraw yet more non-emergency care. The next two strikes will take place in April.
Despite the fact that the previous strikes have not yet swayed the Health Secretary, Dr Gorman was confident that industrial action would bring the government back to the negotiating table.
"I think we will be successful," he said. "The government is banking on junior doctors becoming demoralised, fading away and going back to work, but we won't.
"I was out on the picket line at the Freeman Hospital and there was a fantastic atmosphere - in the freezing cold rain there were 40 or 50 juniors out there, with fantastic support from members of the public bringing us cakes and cups of tea."
Public support for the doctors seems to be remaining strong.
A poll of 860 adults by Ipsos MORI for the BBC showed 65% supported striking doctors - almost as many as backed them ahead of last month's walkout. The poll did show an increase in the proportion of people blaming both sides for the dispute, now standing at 28%, up from 18%.
A Department of Health spokesman said: "Patients have so far seen more than 19,000 operations cancelled as a result of the BMA's irresponsible and unjustified industrial action.
"The new contract, 90% of which was agreed with the BMA and endorsed by senior NHS leaders, is a very good deal for doctors and the NHS."
<BDoctors brave the rain to strike at the Freeman Hospital