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Norfolk and Norwich hospital braces itself for five-day strikes as contract row intensifies

Norwich junior doctors on strike make their case on Haymarket, Norwich.
PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY

Norwich junior doctors on strike make their case on Haymarket, Norwich. PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY

Chiefs at Norfolk's biggest hospital are urgently drawing up plans to cope with an unprecedented five-day strike by junior doctors later this month.

What is the dispute about?

The government wants to introduce a new contract for doctors working up to consultant level to replace one it says is outdated.

Discussions surrounding the contract, for junior doctors in England, started in 2012 but broke down in 2014.

Jeremy Hunt has angered junior doctors by repeated references to higher death rates for patients admitted to NHS hospitals at weekends. While the research does suggest higher mortality rates following admission at weekends than during the week, researchers have been cautious about suggesting staffing issues are to blame.

In terms of the contract itself, Mr Hunt wanted to cut the number of hours over a weekend for which junior doctors can claim extra pay, offsetting this with a hike in basic pay. This has been a major sticking point, but doctors have also expressed other concerns. This summer the BMA reached agreement with the government, but 58pc of balloted junior doctors and medical students voted against the deal.

Hundreds of junior doctors across all departments at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (N&N) are expected to walk out between September 12-16 after the British Medical Association announced four sets of strikes in every remaining month of the year.

It comes as the N&N experiences a rise in patients admitted to the hospital – forcing bosses to reopen a ward that had been closed temporarily in a bid to drive down spending on extra nurses.

The impending strike means patients will have operations and appointments cancelled.

It is not yet known how many cancellations there will be.

Five strikes have already been held this year, causing the N&N to cancel around 140 non-emergency operations and nearly 2,700 patient appointments.

The strike was called after 58pc of junior doctors voted against (from a turnout of 68pc) accepting a revised contract agreed by the government and the British Medical Association (BMA).

The Department of Health condemned the strikes and said the BMA “must be the first union in history to call for strike action against a deal they themselves negotiated and said was a good one”.

James Rowson, the BMA representative at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, said he voted in favour of the contract but would still be striking. “My job is to listen to the membership. We held a survey and the main reasons doctors voted against the contract were (in no particular order): Saturday pay, discrimination against part-time doctors, equality issues, and protection of whistleblowers.”

Richard Parker, chief operating officer at the N&N, said: “Patients in need of emergency care will continue to receive the treatment they need, and will be prioritised.

“Consultants will be asked to cover ward and emergency work during the strike period to ensure a high level of patient care.

“As a result of the impact of this disruption, some waiting times may be longer than normal.”

Are you affected by the strikes? Email nicholas.carding@archant.co.uk

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