The two-day strike by the junior doctors began on Tuesday and marked the first ever all-out strike in the history of United Kingdom’s National Health Service. It is the first time that emergency and maternity services have been affected.
The junior doctors, a term used for trainees who are also working as medical practitioners, have walked out on both regular and emergency routines over demands involving working hours and pay.
According to the NHS, during the 48-hour protest, a military level contingency planning was put in place to ensure the safety of the patients. This included the cancellation of around 13,000 operations and more than 100,000 appointments. More nurses and senior doctors were redeployed into emergency care and holidays and study leaves were also cancelled, Vice News reported.
British Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said that the government cannot be compelled to scrap its election pledge to ramp up the weekend services. “I don’t think any union has the right to blackmail the government, to force the government to abandon a manifesto promise that the British people have voted on,” he was quoted as saying by US News.
The junior doctors in England comprise one-third of all medical practitioners. Doctors belonging to the British Medical Association have been in a long-standing dispute with the government over the proposed changes to the working hours and the pay. The contract seeks to include evenings and Saturdays into the standard working hours of the doctors, which would result in pay cuts.
Currently, the doctors are paid extra for working for any hours between 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekends. This arrangement will be changed to 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays and 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturdays as the standard working hours.
Karen Smith, a patient who was scheduled for a spinal procedure on Thursday, said she was devastated to learn that it was cancelled.
“I am desperately disappointed that it hasn’t gone ahead but I do support the junior doctors 100 percent,” she told BBC Radio 4. “We put our lives in their hands … and our families lives as well and [they’re a] highly educated group of people and if they all say that this contract that’s been imposed on them isn’t safe then I believe it isn’t safe.”