Thousands Protest Against Imposed Junior Contracts

[box] Rob Cleaver reports on last night’s Junior Doctor demonstration at Methodist Central Hall[/box]

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Last night, thousands of junior doctors, medical students and other medical professionals staged a peaceful demonstration just a stone’s throw away from Westminster to demand a rethink over the Government’s proposed junior doctor contract.

The protest went ahead despite a last minute ‘indefinite postponement’ of NHS England’s meeting with junior doctors in the Methodist Central Hall. As the crowd swelled to an estimated 5000 attendees, representatives from all five of London’s medical schools as well as junior doctors and consultants stood in unison in scrubs and with stethoscopes around their necks in opposition to the DDRB recommendations.

After a static protest outside Methodist Central Hall, the protest moved via Whitehall and the Department of Health to Downing Street. Chants such as ‘Save Our Contract, Save Our Patients, Save Our NHS’, ‘Not Fair, Not Safe’ and ‘No Ifs, No Buts, No Junior Contract Cuts’ rang out through the streets of the capital, bringing traffic to a standstill and alerting the general public to the plight at hand. Despite the outside assumption that much of the unrest regarding the proposals are regarding pay cuts, the main focus of the demonstration was that of patient safety in light of prolonged and unsafe sociable working hours that junior doctors would have to endure. There was also a focus upon what is seen as unfair treatment of those taking a break from their careers to, amongst other things, start a family.

Cam Stocks, a 4th year medical student at Bart’s and the London medical school commented, “I’ve been to a lot of healthcare protests over the past few years and I’ve not seen this level of activism from medical students before. I think because this is a personal attack on students and juniors, it really has struck a chord with everyone”. Amanda, a junior doctor in south London added, “This is a step towards unsettling the NHS employees and another step towards the Government’s drive towards privatisation – this isn’t about pay, it’s about patients”.

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Jeremy Hunt has already moved to try to avert potential strike action by junior doctors by agreeing to meet the BMA Junior Doctors’ Committee following members’ unanimous call to ballot over the weekend. Johann Malawana, the new head of the BMA Junior Doctors’ Committee addressed the crowd outside Methodist Central Hall slating the government for being ignorant over the BMA’s concern for patient welfare and the threat of losing so many doctors oversees in the years to come. “There are already reports of increased numbers of doctors considering leaving the NHS to work abroad, this should serve as a wakeup call to the Government that there is a real risk that doctors will speak with their feet.”

As the protest moved down Whitehall, honks of solidarity from traffic were commonplace despite the sheer size of the protest briefly bringing cars and buses to a standstill outside the Department of Health. One driver even stopped and got out of his car to film the protest as it crossed the street around him.

 

Organisers Jo Sutton-Klein, a medic at Sheffield University and Jennie Watson, Sophie Williams and Ellie Rea from Imperial College School of Medicine did an impeccable job of keeping protestors safe as well as keeping spirits high. Medical student Eirion Slade did several renditions of his song Save Our Contracts throughout the evening as lyric sheets were handed out amongst the gathering crowds. The atmosphere was friendly, defiant and invigorating throughout and as protestors slowly drifted away late in the evening from Parliament Square the consensus was that the demonstration had been a resounding success.

Speaking on behalf of organisers after the protest, Jennie Watson thanked those that turned out despite the NHSE meeting being cancelled. “We never expected that we’d march on Downing Street but we’re glad that we did although we are disappointed by the lack of mainstream media coverage. We believe that the point has been made loud and clear but this was only the beginning of the campaign. We are defending the public and patients because nobody else is”.

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