JUNIOR doctors are striking in York today over proposed changes to their contracts which they say would be unsafe, unfair, and bad for the health service.

Picket lines appeared outside York Hospital and Harrogate Hospital, in the row over working hours, and strikers are now in Parliament Street for a "meet the doctors" demonstration telling people about their dispute.

Dr Charlotte Walsh said they had been "backed into a corner" by the Government, and were taking action "with a heavy heart" over the contract changes which would be "unsafe for our patients, unfair to our junior doctors, and detrimental to our NHS."

"None of us want to be here rather than in work today," she said.

First year doctor Mohammed Bux added: "It's disappointing that it's got this far, and it shouldn't have. The Government has left us with no choice."

He said: "It's important to stress that emergency services are running as normal."

Drs Walsh and Bux said they had seen strong support from members of the public, many of whom had turned up with banners to join the demonstration outside the hospital early this morning; as well as senior colleagues who had agreed to take on work during the strikes, and nurses and pharmacists.

York woman Hazel Palmer was at the picket line. She said: "I think the government is being very unfair in changing the relationship between pay and unsocial hours. 

"I also think it's a cheek to say that if the doctors don't agree with this, they will impose the contract later anyway. To do that to dedicated professionals is quite unreasonable."

If the new contract goes ahead the doctors will get tired and stressed, and patients will be worse off, she added.

The changes would apply to 50,000 junior doctors in England - any medics below consultant level.

York Hospital has rescheduled almost 100 appointments ahead of the planned junior doctor strike on Tuesday. It has asked people to consider whether they really need to use A&E, which is for serious or life threatening health conditions.

There are understood to be more than 100 junior doctors based in York and many are expected to be on strike.

However, the British Medical Association (BMA) has said junior doctors working in emergency situations - such as emergency operations, accident and emergency and intensive care - will not take part in the strike.

Patients whose appointments or procedures have been rescheduled will have been contacted by the hospital. No elective operations have had to be cancelled as the hospital had planned fewer for Tuesday than usual in anticipation of a possible strike. 

The basis for the current round of negotiations is the Government's offer from early November, including an 11 per cent rise in basic pay for junior doctors.

This is offset by plans to cut the number of hours on a weekend for which junior doctors can claim extra pay for unsocial hours.

This is the first strike by junior doctors over pay and conditions since 1975, although they were involved in the 2012 walkout over pensions.

A York Hospital spokesperson said: “Given the potential impact of the strike action on our hospital services, we would encourage people to think about whether they need to visit the Emergency Department, which is there for people in serious or life threatening situations. Patients can really help us by taking the appropriate action to treat their condition, which might mean contacting NHS 111 or attending a pharmacy. Better use of all the available services will help to ensure that only patients with a real emergency come to hospital, giving us more time to dedicate to those patients who really need us.”