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Junior docs outside Department of Health

Empty chair: Dr Rachel Clarke and Dr Dagan Lonsdale wait for Jeremy Hunt outside the Department of Health

Junior doctors today began an “indefinite” peaceful protest outside the Department of Health in a bid to reopen talks with Jeremy Hunt and end the dispute over new contracts.

Dr Rachel Clarke and Dr Dagan Lonsdale began their protest at 10.30am and vowed to remain in place in Whitehall for 24 hours. They will be replaced for 12 hours a day, seven days a week, by colleagues also keen to force a breakthrough.

The action comes ahead of plans by the British Medical Association to withdraw emergency cover provided by junior doctors for the first time ever, between 8am and 5pm on April 26 and 27, in an escalation of the row over the imposition of “unsafe” new contracts this summer.

The junior doctors launched the protest after the Health Secretary said his door was “always open”. However the Government has refused to return to talks after a fourth walkout on two days last week.

Dr Clarke, who works in Oxford, said: “None of us can understand why Jeremy Hunt is burying his head in the sand and refusing to talk when an all-out strike is days away.
“Grassroots doctors are absolutely desperate. Dialogue is so obviously the only way to end this dispute. All of us have a duty here to put patients first and do everything possible to avert further strikes.

“The BMA wants to talk, so why on earth won’t Jeremy Hunt get back around the table? If patient safety really mattered to him, he’d be there already.”

Dr Lonsdale, an intensive care registrar at St George’s hospital, in Tooting, who was previously caught on TV trying to speak to Mr Hunt, said: “I am here because I have a duty to raise concerns about the safety of patients within the NHS.

“Political leaders should be working with the profession to solve problems and improve care, not simply bulldoze concerns into the dust. Doctors like me have dedicated our lives to providing safe and effective care for others. We have no interest in healthcare policy that is driven by soundbite electioneering.”