Consultants at the London hospital featured in the TV series 24 Hours in A&E today vowed to cover for colleagues who take part in the first “all out” junior doctors’ strike.
The senior medics at St George’s hospital in Tooting insisted that patients would not be put at risk, as they followed colleagues at Barts Health in going public with their unanimous support of their juniors.
In a letter of support emailed to their “highly valued” colleagues, the consultants at one of Britain’s busiest A&Es said they were “wholeheartedly against” the changes to the contracts proposed by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.
Mr Hunt has vowed to impose new contracts from next August that will reduce the hours attracting overtime payments as he seeks to deliver more NHS services seven days a week.
Junior doctors are due to walk out on December 1 – though not in emergency departments – and then between 8am and 5pm on December 8 and 16 after 98 per cent voted in favour of strike action.
Consultant Dr Neel Bhanderi, who helped draw up the letter, told the Standard: “We wanted to show our support for the juniors working in the emergency department. We know that, working in emergency medicine, there are a lot of anti-social hours, and it’s already a seven-day service that we run. We are lucky at George’s to have consultant cover 24 hours a day.
“We all agreed to come in and staff the department to make sure it’s safe, and patients will get consultant care on these two days. We wanted to reassure our juniors that patients are still going to be in safe hands, and for them not to worry. At the end of the day, for us and for any doctor, the patients are paramount.”
He said the changes proposed by Mr Hunt would remove safeguards on overtime and could leave junior doctors working longer in unsafe conditions. Junior doctors working part-time while carrying out academic research or bringing up families would lose out financially, he said.
There are between 50 and 60 junior doctors working in St George’s A&E. “We know it [the strike threat] is a last resort,” Dr Bhanderi said. “What we would want is for both sides to get back to the negotiating table.”
The letter states: “It is regrettable that the Government seems determined to impose these changes upon you and that the BMA has been forced to withdraw from negotiations. We fully support you and your choice to undertake industrial action.
“We want you to have a safe and fair contract. It will protect you. But most of all it will protect your patients. At the end of the day, you are the future of the NHS and we are proud to call you our colleagues.”
- An edited version of this article appears in tonight’s Evening Standard.