By Taz Ali and Robyn Moore
Over 200 people gathered in Birmingham yesterday to oppose the government’s plans to impose a new contract on junior doctors from August.
The protest in Victoria Square, which is also hosting the popular German Christmas market, was attended by doctors, nurses and supporters from all over the West Midlands displaying placards reading ‘save our NHS’ and ‘junior contract; not fair not safe’.
An orthopaedic trainee Roshana Mehdian, 29, a member of the NHS Survival campaign, condemned recent reports claiming doctors going on strike will cripple the NHS.
She said: “You will not be prosecuted by the GMC for striking. We have the support of every consultant body, we have the support from all of our other colleagues and they will keep our patients safe. Do not underestimate that support.”
Dr Mehdian, who moved from Birmingham to London a few months ago, helped organise a demonstration in London last month which attracted over 20,000 protesters and was described as a militant in the Daily Mail.
She said: “If I am being described as militant for wanting safety for my patients, a safe contract for doctors and fair, equal and justified changes in the contract for the doctors, I’m happy to be called militant.
“I will not allow myself to be silenced because I am speaking the truth. We are on the side of justice which is a much stronger moral position to be in than the people we are fighting against.
“We have said from the start all we want is fair negotiations; we are being pushed into a corner. We don’t want to strike, we have never wanted to strike and we will not strike if we’re offered fair negotiations.
“And no one is to be blamed for this strike except Jeremy Hunt.”
The protesters opposed Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s proposals to extend routine working hours to 7am to 10pm, Monday to Saturday, without premium pay.
Mr Hunt also plans to remove safeguards which prevents doctors working unsafe hours and ensures imbursement when shifts overrun.
Failed negotiations between the government and the British Medical Association (BMA) have led to the union balloting for industrial action.
Polls already suggest junior doctors will go on strike but the BMA committee will announce the outcome on Wednesday.
Dr Petra Hanson, of who works at University Hospital of Coventry and Warwickshire, attended the protest because she wanted to raise awareness of how changes to her contract will negatively affect her and the public.
She said: “It’s really bad for the public, they will have doctors who are tired, doctors who want to leave medicine as a profession or leave for a different country, which means the NHS will be in a bad position.
“The solution is for the government to return back to negotiations without any preconditions, because our union the BMA wants to negotiate with the government with a clean sheet.
“We want to work safe hours and provide the best patient care.”
Laura Bates, of Solihull, a nurse at the Worcester Health and Care Trust, joined the demonstration to support the NHS and called for the government to properly fund the health service.
She said: “I work with community care and in the last four years it’s been cut in half, waiting lists are massive, and mental health is a big priority that’s being ignored.”
A Facebook page, named Dr Rant, with over 41,000 followers, promoted the event beforehand.
A post said: “Jeremy Hunt says his doors are open for negotiation. No they are not. The reason that the BMA walked away from the contract talks is because preconditions were set by Hunt and his team.
“The number of applications to medical school have dropped. There will be no increase in UK doctors numbers.”