Watch: Striking junior doctors sing protest songs in Portsmouth

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JUNIOR doctors in Portsmouth today went on strike over a row with the government about pay and working conditions.

They demonstrated outside Queen Alexandra Hospital in Cosham over a contract dispute with the government.

A group of more than 50 doctors gathered outside the hospital’s main entrance waving placards and singing songs of protest.

About 40 operations at QA have had to be cancelled because of the strike.

Doctor Mohana Ratnapalan, 28, said the new contract being proposed by health minister Jeremy Hunt would lead to an unsafe NHS.

Dr Ratnapalan said: ‘The contract means that junior doctors are being asked to work more hours than we think are safe.

‘If a doctor is tired, they’re more likely to make mistakes and I don’t want to see that happening.’

Dr Ratnapalan said the contract would force doctors to work more days in a row with more hours. She said safeguards preventing doctors working seven 12-hour shifts in a row would be removed.

Another doctor, Emma Patterson, 28 said said she would leave the NHS if the new contract was enforced.

Dr Patterson said: ‘Even with safeguards in place we frequently work longer hours than we should be because it’s in the patients’ interest.

‘But to be told that we have lost a sense of vocation in our career and to have those safeguards taken away from us and a new contract imposed is just unfair and unsafe.’

The hospital’s human resources director Tim Powell said the cancelled operations were only a small percentage of the 300 undertaken on an average day at the hospital.

He said: ‘We’ve had contingency plans for some time now so we’ve made sure we’re keeping the hospital safe.

‘We’ve cancelled some operations and some outpatient clinics to ensure that we’re able to maintain safe services.

‘All of the critical areas are going ahead. In the main it’s people coming in for minor surgery that we’ve had to cancel.’

The government wants to introduce the new contract for junior doctors to create more seven-days services.

The national 24-hour walk-out started at 8am, with junior doctors only providing emergency care.

The move comes after Prime Minister David Cameron urged them to call off their action, claiming it could cause ‘real difficulties for patients and potentially worse’.

However, Jon Woods, Portsmouth Trades Council president, said that although the strikes would cause disruption in the short-term, they would help improve overall patient care in the long-term.

Mr Woods said: ‘This is about doctors trying to ensure that they don’t work excessive and long hours.

‘And there is a huge level of support for their action.

‘No-one wants to see patient care disrupted. However. talking to junior doctors they’re concerned abouit the contract that will poor quality for years and years to come.

‘That’s going to have a major impact on patient care. So doctors are saying that it’s better that we can fight this now so we can get rid of the contract get some safeguards on things.’

Talks between the doctors’ union – the British Medical Association (BMA) – and bosses from the NHS continue.

The crux of the problem, the BMA claims, centres around weekend pay and whether there are appropriate safeguards in place to stop hospitals from over-working doctors.

Urging medics to ‘get around the table’ and debate the issue instead of striking, the PM said: ‘This strike is not necessary, it will be damaging.

‘We are doing everything we can to mitigate its effects but you can’t have a strike on this scale in our NHS without there being some real difficulties for patients and potentially worse.’

Today’s action is the first of three planned national walk-outs.

NHS England estimates nearly 4,000 operations and procedures out of 31,000 will be cancelled because of the strike.

However, further strikes this month and next are set to usher in further disruption.

The second walk-out due to take place from 8am on Tuesday, January 26 until 8am the following day. On this occasion, emergency care will be provided.

However, if no agreement can be reached between the BMA and NHS by Wednesday, February 17, a full walk-out will then take place from 8am to 5pm.

Picture: Jason Kay, UKNIP