NHS junior doctors' strike 2024: 'I'll go Down Under instead,' sing doctors to tune of Robbie Williams' Angels

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Video catches NHS doctors in fine voice as they begin a six-day walkout over pay.

Junior doctors in London have begun the longest strike in NHS history, with a six-day walk-out lasting until next Tuesday (January 3-9).

The action is the latest in a dispute with the government over pay. The British Medical Association (BMA) says junior doctors have received a 26% real-terms pay cut since 2008. It is pushing for a 35% pay rise, which it says would bring pay back to 2008 levels after inflation.

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Talks between the BMA and the government last month broke down after five weeks.

Hamish Bain, an NHS worker striking St Thomas' Hospital, Waterloo, said: "We're here today as part of a sequence of multiple strikes in order to restore the pay that has been eroded over the last 12-14 years. Review bodies haven't increased our pay in line with inflation so in real terms we've had a pay cut. We're here just to try to restore that pay and the only way we can do that in public sector employment is through striking at the moment - after we've exhausted several means of negotiation."

Workers at the picket line sang songs, including lyrics such as "we'll go Down Under instead".

"It's saying you'll go to Australia because you're going to get more money there, you don't work as many hours," said Hamish. "I'm personally not doing that, but I'm saying that's the feeling that you get working here sometimes."

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BMA junior doctors committee co-chairs Dr Robert Laurenson and Dr Vivek Trivedi said in a statement: “We have been clear from the outset of these talks that we needed to move at pace and if we did not have a credible offer, we would be forced to call strikes. After five weeks of intense talks, the government was unable to present a credible offer on pay by the deadline.

“Instead, we were offered an additional 3%, unevenly spread across doctors’ grades, which would still amount to pay cuts for many doctors this year. It is clear the government is still not prepared to address the real-terms pay cut doctors have experienced since 2008.

“It is a great shame that even though the approach was more constructive, there was not enough on offer to shape a credible deal, which we hoped would end the dispute. Without enough progress by the deadline, we have no choice but to take action that demonstrates doctors are as determined as ever in reversing their pay cuts.

“However, we can still avoid the need for these strikes. We will be ready and willing any time the government wants to talk. If a credible offer can be presented the day before, or even during any action, these strikes can be cancelled.”

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NHS England has warned that these strikes will heavily disrupt routine services, saying: “During these strikes, other doctors (including consultants and other specialist doctors) will still be working. The NHS is working hard to ensure adequate staffing through the entirety of urgent care pathways, urgent elective cases, and other critical services.

“However, the disruption to staffing will cause a significant reduction in elective activity and this may mean some appointments and procedures may need to be rescheduled. We will only reschedule appointments and procedures where necessary and will rebook immediately, where possible.

“Regardless of any strike action taking place, it is really important that patients who need urgent medical care continue to come forward as normal, especially in emergency and serious life-threatening cases – when someone is seriously ill or injured, or their life is at risk.”

The Department of Health and Social Care posted a statement from Health and Social Care Secretary Victoria Atkins on X: “January is typically the busiest time of year for the NHS and these strikes will have a serious impact on patients across the country. I urge the BMA Junior Doctors Committee to call off their strikes and come back to the negotiating table so we can find a fair and reasonable solution to end the strikes once and for all.”

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Atkins wrote on her own X account: “Junior Doctors continue their strike today. That means more disruption for patients and staff. My message remains the same. Call off the strikes and come back to the table. Let’s start 2024 right.”

The strikes have received support from Bell Ribeiro-Addy, Labour MP for Streatham, who posted: “Junior doctors hold our NHS together but have been overworked and underpaid for too long. Solidarity with @BMA_JuniorDocs, who begin the longest NHS strike in history today to fight for pay restoration & investment in our NHS.”

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