A doctor has said working in the NHS feels like “going down with the Titanic”, as thousands of medics went on strike across England.
British Medical Association (BMA) members are walking out at NHS hospitals across England on Wednesday in an ongoing dispute over pay.
Hamish Bain, a 30-year-old junior doctor speaking outside University College Hospital in London, said: “I feel like the violinists on the Titanic, the ship is going down. It’s already happening, people are leaving, patients are suffering as a consequence. My mum is waiting for an NHS appointment, and I had to say well that’s the NHS for you.”
The strikes will continue until Friday, with further action planned for 2-4 October.
Doctors on the picket line said they are paid the ‘same as a barista’ despite saving lives, as they joined the walkout with consultants.
Dr Arjan Singh, member of the BMA doctors committee, told The Independent: “Junior doctors starting off at £15 an hour. That’s £15 an hour to start life saving treatment for our loved ones. Fifteen pounds an hour, for a doctor with student debts of over £100,000.
“Fifteen pounds an hour for someone that’s going to sacrifice the next 15 years of their life moving up and down the country at the whim of the NHS - sacrificing friendships and relationships along the way.
“The government has already spent £1 billion covering these strikes, so it would have been actually cheaper to just restore our pay.”
Hospitals have put in place Christmas Day-style rotas during the walkouts, which the BMA says is “to ensure the lowest safe level of staffing that is found at any point in the year”. Emergency care will continue but elective and non-emergency work will be cancelled.
More than 100,000 operations and appointments will need to be rescheduled due to the strikes. It comes as the latest figures show a record 7.68 million people are waiting for treatment in the NHS.
Dr Tom Dolphin, a consultant doctor and member of the BMA consultant committee said: “We are very sorry for the disruption that the strikes are causing. None of us want to be on strike, we’d much rather be doing what we are trained to do - looking after patients.
“We are seeing doctors leaving the NHS in large numbers, going overseas to Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and even Ireland where they can almost double their salaries.
“The UK needs to value its doctors better. We need to be able to retain and recruit people in the NHS to be able to provide the services and to be able to start getting through the backlog of patients.”
TFL buses, taxis and drivers beeped their horns in support of junior doctors and consultants striking in front of UCLH.
Geoff Shailor, 59, a cancer patient who had just been discharged from the hospital, also joined the doctors outside the hospital.
“I’ve come here to support the doctors strikes, of course I support them,” he said. “I lost both my mum and my sister to Covid, two weeks apart. Doctors tried to save them, but they couldn’t. It’s not their fault.
“We’ve had three prime ministers and none of them have done anything. These doctors should get paid more than our MPs. Why pay these people more? Because it’s their calling. They save people’s lives.”
Health Secretary Steve Barclay has said doctors who started their hospital training this year are receiving a 10.3% pay increase, with the average junior doctor getting 8.8% and consultants 6%.
“In the face of ongoing and escalating strike action, we will continue to take steps to protect patient safety and ensure the health service has the staff it needs to operate safely and effectively,” he added.
In response to the pay increase, Dr Singh said: “We don’t get paid in percentages, we get paid in pounds. This 8.8% increase that they’ve given us is equivalent to an extra £1.50 an hour. Two chocolate bars is what they’re given us.”
“The government need to come to us with a credible offer that we can put to our members. If not, then unfortunately, with great regret the strikes are going to continue.”