Junior Doctors Explain Why They Are Going On Strike Again

"So many doctors have left the country, or left the profession, it has become unbearable."
Striking doctors and Dr Sumi Manirajan
Striking doctors and Dr Sumi Manirajan
Getty / BMA

“Sometimes I go to work and patients have been waiting for 12 hours, sometimes more, to see a doctor,” Dr Sumi Manirajan tells HuffPost UK.

“They are in pain and are really distressed so having to comfort someone who is at that level of distress about the wait time they have had – which is completely out of our control due to systemic failures – is really demoralising. It’s awful seeing patients in that situation and every doctor deals with the emotional burden of not being able to more.”

Manirajan said sometimes she is left “thoroughly exhausted” and “dreads” going in to work the next day.

She is one of thousands of junior doctors who are set to take part in a 96-hour strike next month after talks with ministers broke down in an increasingly bitter row over pay.

Health bosses warn that patient safety will suffer and point out the new strikes will follow a four-day bank holiday weekend when “demand will have piled up”.

It also comes after thousands of junior doctors staged a three-day strike on 6-8 March, which led to 175,000 outpatient appointments and operations being rescheduled.

However, doctors argue they have been left with no choice, with members of the British Medical Association saying it is the government putting safety at risk by not getting around the table with them.

“We want to come to a solution, we want to negotiate. By not doing this the government is jeopardising patient care, the government is kicking the can down the road.”

- Dr Sumi Manirajan

“Junior doctors have seen a 26% real terms pay cut over the last 15 years,” Manirajan says.

“Which means that a doctor working today, doing the same job as in 2008, is getting paid 26% less.

“We’re going on strike to get pay restoration, that’s just to bring our wages back to what they were.

“It’s not a pay rise, it’s simply just restoring our pay. This will require a 35% uplift.”

The 35% figure has irritated ministers, with health secretary Steve Barclay claiming the BMA made it a “precondition” of their talks.

However, the BMA has hit back, saying they never set preconditions, only an opening offer.

Manirajan adds: “We’re asking for qualified doctors to be paid £19 an hour as opposed to £14 an hour. And the most senior junior doctor - 10 years plus of experience - to be paid £38 an hour instead of £28 pounds an hour.

“It’s £10 we’re asking for, it’s not going to break the bank but it’s about valuing our healthcare professionals in this country before they leave us with no health care system.”

Despite having the title “junior”, Manirajan points out that these doctors are “highly skilled expert clinicians” who are providing “life-saving and life-prolonging” treatment every day.

“These are the doctors who are restarting your heart if it stops in hospital,” she adds. “They’re the ones removing the clot from your lung, they’re the ones reading the scans and performing brain surgery.”

She also points out the personal costs doctors have to pay out for - which includes thousands for mandatory exams, allocation costs, high indemnity fees and hundreds of pounds to register with licensing companies.

“Working conditions have got to a point now because so many doctors have left the country, or left the profession, it has become unbearable,” Manirajan says.

She said doctors were often doing the job of more than one and said when patients need urgent intervention they sometimes have to wait hours: “It means that we can’t provide the care that we desperately want to.”

Manirajan said she knows medical students who are not even considering starting work in the NHS.

“They join us on placement and they see the real life conditions that they will be expected to work in and they are seeking an alternative career even before graduating,” she added.

“I’m worried we’re going to get to a point in the UK where only the most wealthy people can afford to become doctors and stay doctors in the UK and that’s not good for the population.”

Asked about claims that patient safety will be put at risk by the strikes, Manirajan replied: “This is something that no doctor has taken lightly. The decision to take strike action has been something that has been building for 15 years. It’s not something that is taken lightly, rashly or without thought.

“Doctors don’t want to go on strike. We want a solution to the workforce crisis that we’ve screaming about for the past six months.”

She called on Barclay to “come to the table” and give them his opening offer.

The 96-hour walkout will take place for shifts starting between 6.59am on Tuesday 11 April and 6.59am on Saturday 15 April 2023.

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said the action poses a “real risk” to patient safety.

Based on the last industrial action, he said: “It seems likely that up to a quarter of a million appointments and operations may need to be postponed as a result of this next wave of strikes.”

He said it will be hard to call on consultants to fill in rota gaps due to many accumulating leave after covering the last strikes.

Junior doctors in the Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association (HCSA) will also strike on the same days.

A Department of Health spokesperson said further strikes will “risk patient safety” and cause further disruption.

“The BMA placed a pre-condition on these talks of a 35% pay rise. That is unreasonable,” they said.

“Our door remains open to constructive conversations, as we have had with other health unions, to find a realistic way forward which balances rewarding junior doctors for their hard work while being fair to the taxpayer.”

This was disputed by the BMA’s Laurenson who said there were “no preconditions from us.”


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