Junior doctors in Lancaster this week joined thousands across the country in staging a two-day walkout.
More than 40 junior doctors from the Royal Lancaster Infirmary (RLI) took strike action on Tuesday and Wednesday in protest over government plans to introduce new contracts.
The strike was the first of its kind in the history of the NHS and saw a complete withdrawal of labour by junior doctors, with their workload covered by consultants.
Motorists beeped their horns in support of the doctors as they drove past the picket line outside the RLI.
Dr Helen Ivatt, a junior doctor in anaesthetics at the RLI and British Medical Association (BMA) rep for junior doctors, said: “I think people are generally interested. People don’t believe that this is about pay. They know we have got our own good reasons and they trust us.
“Largely people are very understanding and realise that there’s so much at stake. This is a last resort for us.
“This is the most extreme action that junior doctors have taken. I would love to see us re-entering negotiations but they [the government] seem to be hell-bent on imposing this by August.
“Our next stage is to attempt to continue negotiations. We are happy to talk and are very much trying to engage in a dialogue.
“We can work out a contract that’s safe for us and safe for patients. We just need the government to reciprocate.
“Although a big thing has been made about the number of operations which have been cancelled, we know that in our hospital, more have been cancelled in other weeks for other reasons.
“If you take a service that’s already pushed five days and make it work seven days I don’t see how much longer it can survive.
“We have said all along that what’s needed is more funding and more staff.”
BMA member Philip Dutton, a junior doctor in obstetrics and gynaecology, said the strike had been well supported by Lancaster residents.
He said: “We have had a really positive response from the general public. We have had people waving and beeping their horns and coming up to us. Some have even brought us coffee.
“People are asking us questions. We have had incredible support.”
The doctors were also supported on the picket line by members of the National Union of Teachers.
Audrey Glover, president of Lancaster & Morecambe district NUT, said: “We have a long tradition of supporting other workers in solidarity. On this particular issue we have so much in common in terms of creeping privatisation and changes to contracts.
“I think it’s something that everyone should be supporting – you need to unite to win. You can’t leave people on their own.”
Foluke Ajayi, chief operating officer at the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust (UHMBT), said: “Over the last few months, the ongoing industrial action has required the trust to put in place its contingency plans to deal with service disruptions – these are robust plans that protect the safety, welfare and service provided to patients. This is always our top priority.
“This industrial action has been more challenging, as it saw a full withdrawal of labour, including emergency care, from the junior doctors.
“However, knowing the strike dates and the nature of the action well in advance has meant that we were able to plan for the inevitable service disruption.
“As a result of the industrial action, 406 operations and 345 outpatient appointments across the trust have been cancelled. All affected patients have been contacted directly by the trust.”