Around 3,000 people descended on Victoria Gardens, in Leeds city centre, last night to voice their opposition to proposed changes to the contracts of junior doctors - doctors below consultant level - which could be imposed next August.
The dispute between the Government and doctors' union the British Medical Association (BMA) surrounds fears that caps on the number of hours worked by young doctors could be scrapped and that what are termed as “unsociable hours” will be changed to mean pay cuts for some staff who work more antisocial hours in areas like A&E.
At present junior doctors are paid “standard” time for working 7am-7pm Monday to Friday and extra for antisocial hours but Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt wants to reclassify them to 7am-10pm Monday to Saturday.
The BMA argues the changes will mean doctors could be forced to work longer shifts – jeopardising patient safety – as existing safeguards which limit their hours are removed.
Although Mr Hunt has tried to reassure doctors that the moves are not "cost-cutting" measures, the association refused to re-enter negotiations over the contracts last month.
Junior doctors aren't alone in their fears
Doctors in Leeds were joined by hundreds of their colleagues from as far afield as Hull and Sheffield during last night's protest in a show of solidarity against the Government's proposed changes to the junior doctor contract. We also spoke to students, nurses and health care professionals from all areas of the NHS who were just as passionate about the dispute over the contract and its implications as the clinicians themselves. Thousands packed out Victoria Gardens during the demonstration, including many members of the public who saw the event as a means of voicing their displeasure at plans for the NHS.
The public relations war was won by the British Medical Association
The BMA, acting as the doctors' union, has been fervently pushing the agenda of junior doctors who fear that the proposed changes to their contracts could prove unsafe, see some workers left out of pocket while potentially working longer hours. As a result, emotive words teeing up the junior doctor protest in Yorkshire from those working on the frontline of health care weren't hard to come by but terminally ill Dr Kate Granger's insight from both sides of the debate, as a doctor and patient, hit home. When the Department of Health were asked for a response by the Yorkshire Post and Yorkshire Evening Post, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt delegated the chance to reply to Yorkshire juniors to his understudy Ben Gummer, minister for care quality, which will do little to change the mindset here.
Junior doctors in the White Rose are multi-talented
From the trio of cakes that were baked displaying the letters 'N', 'H' and 'S', which were unceremoniously cut up and thrown into the crowd of protesters by a man wearing a Jeremy Hunt mask, to the cover of Jessie J's 'Price Tag', our junior doctors clearly have a range of talents. The musical rendition was completely rewritten to offer a stinging message over the contract plans, stating: "It's not about the money, money, money, but we don't think it's funny, funny, funny, jeopardising patient welfare to push his private health care."
Medics in Yorkshire are facing this together
To enable junior doctors to attend the demonstration en masse last night, senior consultants in A&E and anaesthetics departments across the region stepped up to cover their colleagues. The sheer number of junior doctors out on the streets was a reflection of the togetherness of people in the profession in Yorkshire to support them in their protest.
High profile attendees show Yorkshire is making a noise nationally
The spirited speech of 92-year-old Harry Leslie Smith emphasised the importance of the NHS while the presence of the British Medical Association's junior doctor committee chair Dr Johann Malawana showed that the sentiment of Yorkshire's junior doctors is being heard. Dr Malawana has been at the forefront of the on-off talks with Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and his appearance in Leeds last night will only reinforce his view that doctors in our region want their voices heard by the Government.