For the first time since the National Health Service (NHS) was set up in 1948, nearly 45,000 doctors did not report for duty in accident, emergency, maternity and intensive care units of hospitals across Britain on Tuesday.
Thousands of operations and appointments were cancelled or postponed because of the two-day strike that began on Tuesday. Opinion polls suggested the majority of the British public support the junior doctors, but the backing fell slightly after an all-out stoppage of work was announced.
The junior doctors have been at loggerheads with the David Cameron government’s efforts to introduce new contracts that are considered “dangerous and unfair”, and health secretary Jeremy Hunt has said the doctors are blocking the will of the people.
According to Hunt, the new contracts are being introduced in line with a promise made in the Conservative party manifesto before the May 2015 elections, in which the party won a clear majority.
Hunt called the strike from 8am to 5pm “a very bleak day”. The strike will continue on Wednesday during the same hours, said the British Medical Association (BMA), which has been accused of trying to topple the government.
Backing Hunt, Cameron told ITV News: “There is a good contract on the table with a 13.5% increase in basic pay – 75% of doctors will be better off with this contract. It’s the wrong thing to do to go ahead with this strike, and particularly to go ahead with the withdrawal of emergency care – that is not right.”
This is the fifth strike since the impasse between the doctors and the government began after the 2015 elections. Hospitals said consultants and other senior doctors were on duty to provide services during the strike hours.