Tuesday 12th January was the first day in a serious of planned protests from junior doctors, medical students and health workers against Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s plans to change contract hours.
The strikers have argued that the current contract hours are already pushing an understaffed and overstretched NHS to breaking point, and will make workers in the medical professional more exhausted and unable to care for patients properly.
In Southampton, the day began with a picket at Southampton General Hospital, many carrying hand made signs. The organisers – members of the British Medical Association (BMA) – were on hand to give out badges, lanyards and flyers aimed at informing the public about the strike.
The strike moved onto Bargate in Southampton City Centre, where the Council had provided the space to hold the static protest free of charge. BMA officials, senior and junior doctors, nurses, medical students, local Councillors, Unite and members of the general public gathered, with news and media crew ready to film the action and conduct interviews, including with SUSUtv.
First to give a speech was organiser and BMA representative Bala Karunakaran, who claimed that 98% of almost 300 local consultants working at the University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust support the strike and are worried about their futures. A BBC Newsnight poll showed that 66% of the general public supported the strike, as long as emergency care is still provided.
Southampton medical student and BMA representative of Southampton Medical School Nadine Abbas said in her speech that more than half of Southampton medical students want to immigrate if changes to the contract are implemented. She said,
“We as medical students fully support our junior doctor colleagues. We are worried about the massive implications of the proposed contracts as it will not only affect us but we will have to endure it the longest. Final year students will be under these contracts in a matter of months. With five years at medical school, we have enough to worry about with regards to studying and becoming a competent doctor. The contracts are unfair and unsafe. With longer and potentially unsafe working hours, patient safety will be compromised. Tired doctors make mistakes. We study medicine to save lives, not to put them in danger”.
Singer Josh Savage sang his own rendition of Jessie J’s “Price Tag“, and despite claiming not to be politically orientated, he expressed sincere support for those striking and called for the government to take the concerns of those in the medical profession seriously.
Medical Society President Iona Maxwell told Wessex Scene,
“There was a brilliant turn out from junior doctors, medical students and members of the public and the amount of public support for the cause was tangible. We had between 50-100 people outside Southampton General Hospital in the morning and by the time we got to Bargate these numbers had hugely risen and it is estimated that over 400 people joined us in the town centre. The speakers showed the public the truth behind the political spin and all in all it was a really successful day. No doctor wants to strike but the hope is that short term inconvenience to patients will result in long term improvements to patient safety and to doctors’ ability to care for their patients in the way they want to. We hope the government take stock of yesterday’s events and come back to the negotiating table – in time to prevent future strikes – for some actual negotiation instead of the spin and lies we have received so far!”
Iona also added;
“Hunt’s insistence on a seven day NHS is impossible until he invests the funds needed to staff such a thing – his current idea is to spread the existing staff even more thinly which will put our patients in danger – we can barely keep up a five day NHS as it is”.