JUNIOR doctors formed a picket line outside the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading in protest at a new contract which they say will put patients at risk.
It was part of a nationwide 24-hour walkout, which began at 8am on Tuesday and meant there was emergency cover only at the hospital.
More than 20 medics joined the picket and waved placards warning of the consequences if the contract is imposed on them by the Government, which wants to create a “seven-day NHS”.
The doctors claim that the proposed shift patterns would leave them worse off.
The strikers included Kieran Burton and his partner Samantha Jayaweera, of Chestnut Place, Watlington, who say they could lose up to 30 per cent of their salaries under the new deal.
Dr Burton, 30, who works in intensive care at the Royal Berks and is also undertaking a fellowship at Wexham Park Hospital in Slough, said: “I decided to come along because I feel we have a responsibility to the public at large and the service we love to raise why these contract changes are going to be unsafe for patients.
“The changes to the ability for hours monitoring means we will end up working unsafe hours with no recourse.”
He insisted that it was “a very, very hard” decision to go on strike but added: “We believe it is right to bring to the attention of the public why this is a dangerous contract.
“We’re looking at every opportunity to engage the public and explain what this is about. The support we get when we talk to them is overwhelming. We need the Government to see our resolve but also the help of the public to make the Government realise that this is not just an unpopular thing to do but also a dangerous thing.
“I think the Government has simply not addressed the fundamental concerns about patient safety. If it refuses to back down we’re absolutely committed to go as far as it takes.
“[Health Scretary] Jeremy Hunt needs to open his eyes and listen to the people who are on the ground and dealing with the patients and know the reality.”
Dr Jayaweera, 29, who is training to be an anaesthetist at the hospital, said: “I very much feel backed into a corner by the Government and that this is the only action that’s going to make it listen. We protested with 20,000 of our colleagues in London and that appears to have made no difference. The Government has refused to listen to any of the concerns about how dangerous this was for patients and for us.
“The fact we’re here today is really sad but it is a necessary action. We’re at opposite ends of the spectrum and somebody has to back down.”
Dr Rob Irons, 36, of Littleworth Road, Benson, also walked out.
Dr Irons, a specialist registrar in elderly care medicine at the Royal Berks, said: “The reason I’m striking is because we already have a seven-day NHS in terms of the things Jeremy Hunt says he wants to introduce.
“I worked the weekend and was responsible for approximately 400 medical in-patients. I can say hand on heart not one patient died because there weren’t enough staff.”
Dr Irons said most junior doctors worked between five and 10 hours extra unpaid overtime a week.
“If you reduce the number of doctors doing the work that’s just going to get worse,” he said. “Junior doctors will go back to the bad old days of the Eighties where 10 to 12 hour days became routine.
“There’s going to be an exodus of junior doctors. It only takes five or 10 per cent of doctors to leave the profession or go abroad to have a massive impact and, ultimately, patient care will suffer.”
Under the new contract the number of hours during the working week that are classed as unsociable — and therefore attract an extra payment — are being cut. Guaranteed pay increases linked to time in the job are being scrapped and replaced with a system linked to progression through set training stages.
Tuesday’s strike - the first of two – went ahead despite a last-minute plea from Prime Minister David Cameron for doctors to call off the action, warning it would cause “real difficulties for patients and potentially worse”.
The Royal Berks said that provisional estimates showed that of the 77 junior doctors due to work on Tuesday morning 40 reported for work.