Doctors stage third strike in English hospitals

Junior doctors and supporters hold placards during a strike outside St Thomas' Hospital in London on March 9, 2016.
Junior doctors and supporters hold placards during a strike outside St Thomas' Hospital in London on March 9, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (AFP) - Junior doctors at English hospitals staged a third strike on Wednesday (March 9) in protest at proposed new conditions and pay rates for working unsociable hours.

Around 5,000 treatments have been postponed in the latest action by junior doctors, who were providing only emergency care during the 48-hour strike in the longest walkout so far.

It comes a day after talks with the British Medical Association, the country's trade union for doctor, broke down on Tuesday as the government plans to impose the new contracts in the summer.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said he had to take the dramatic action as doctors were holding him to "ransom", the BBC reported.

But polling by IPSOS MORI suggested that most of the public blamed the government for the dispute with 65 per cent of the 860 people approached for the BBC-commissioned survey supporting the strike.

The main point of dispute between doctors and the government is over whether Saturday should be classed and paid as a normal working day.

Prime Minister David Cameron's centre-right government says the reforms are needed to fulfil his manifesto promise of a "seven-day NHS", with a consistent level of care provided at all times.

The government cites eight studies in five years that show weekend mortality rates are higher.

The striking doctors contend that rates are higher on weekends because those who are admitted tend to be emergency cases.

The next two strikes are planned for April.

Dr Johann Malawana, the BMA's junior doctor leader, disputed Mr Hunt's claims, saying "the government has left junior doctors with no choice.

"Ministers have made it clear they intend to impose a contract that is unfair on junior doctors and could undermine the delivery of patient care in the long term."

A first 24-hour strike was staged on Jan 12 and a second on Feb 11.

There are more than 50,000 junior doctors in England, making up a third of the medical workforce.