YORK Hospital was on a ‘Christmas Day’ footing today – with emergencies prioritised but most routine work postponed – as consultants joined junior doctors in walking out for the first time in the history of the NHS.

They were among thousands of medics across the country today standing on picket lines instead of looking after patients – but told The Press they felt they had to make a stand to protect the future of the NHS.

A&E consultant Dr Steve Crane said he wasn’t on strike simply in pursuit of a better pay deal – although consultant salaries had seen a ‘significant’ decline in the last 20 years, he said.

“But for me, it is much more about the destruction of the NHS that we are seeing,” he said.

“It has been systematically underinvested in for years and years and years. And that is the main reason I’m here. Of course I want my pay to be restored, but the main reason I’m here is that the NHS is dying, and we need to fight for it.

“There is more demand, there are more frail people, elderly people, of course there are. But the function of a state is to make sure that those people are looked after, and it’s a pretty poor do if we can’t look after our own people"

Consultant cardiologist Kim Last admitted that he was earning more than £100,000.

That might seem a lot. “But I have been a consultant now for 17 years, and I’m in my 32nd year as a doctor,” he said. “I’m literally dealing with life and death and the most dreadful suffering.”

York Press: Striking doctors at York Hospital today, including, front row left to right, A&E consultant Steve Crane, cardiology registrar Hester Baverstock and consultant oncologist Kim LastStriking doctors at York Hospital today, including, front row left to right, A&E consultant Steve Crane, cardiology registrar Hester Baverstock and consultant oncologist Kim Last (Image: Stephen Lewis)

He said consultant pay had dropped by 35 per cent in real terms over the last 14 years– and had failed to keep up with that of other professionals such as lawyers, bankers, consultancy firms and politicians.

The upshot was that doctors were leaving the NHS, he said – leading to staff shortages and growing fatigue and exhaustion.

“I’m here because our NHS is in crisis in terms of doctors joining the profession, staying in the profession, and doctors leaving the profession.

“They are leaving the profession because they’re overworked and underpaid and see no prospect of those conditions improving. There are a lot of doctors who have left through burn-out, through exhaustion, through ill-health.”

Consultants were joined on the picket line today by ‘junior’ doctors – many of them, despite the title, senior medical professionals making life and death decisions day in, day out.

Hester Baverstock, a senior cardiology registrar, said she and other doctors often worked in a constant fog of exhaustion.

Almost every day she worked a good three hours over the 8am-4pm shift she was paid for, she said.

“That is not advised by the hospital, but for me, in order to deliver the level of patient care that I would want for my family, that I would want for my patients – and you want to have the time to communicate with those patients and com with their family – that is what it takes,” she said.

She said she spent much of her free time ‘recovering from the exhaustion of what we do’.

“More and more these days we are coming to an understanding of what sleep deprivation does to people,” she said. “The advertising says not to drive when you are tired.

York Press: Striking doctors on the picket line at York Hospital todayStriking doctors on the picket line at York Hospital today (Image: Stephen Lewis)

“Human error does occur. We are looking after patients’ and their lives. Exhaustion is a huge matter in the NHS.”

Consultant cardiologist Dr Last accepted that, because of the strike, more patients waiting desperately for operations would see them postponed – adding to the hospital waiting list.

“I absolutely get that, and I’m sorry for that,” he said.

“But that’s adding to a waiting list that has been present for years and years and has increased through Covid and afterwards exponentially, and is now coming close to 8 million people nationally.

"That’s something we can’t fix easily unnless we keep the experience, and ensure that experts are able to do our job, not feeling constantly exhausted and not filling in for those vacancies across medicine, and across other parts of the health care system.

“Our NHS has always depended on wave after wave of international medical graduates to supplement the inadequate numbers trained in the UK, and they won’t come now. We need to pay an internationally competitive wage.”

He urged health secretary Steve Barclay to resume negotiations over restoring doctors' pay.

“They (the government) need to save our NHS and ensure that we have a health care system fit for purpose in the years ahead and decades ahead,” he said.

“Show us the respect we deserve, and that patients and the general public already give us, and come to talk to us. If you believe in an NHS, show it, by valuing us, and according us the worth that we’re really due.”

York Hospital bosses have admitted that operations and appointments have had to be postponed as a result of the latest strikes – with urgent and emergency care a priority during the strike period.

They stressed that people should not put off seeking care if they needed it.

But for everything other than a ‘life-threatening emergency’, people should call 111 first rather than 999, they said.

Consultants will be back at work tomorrow, though the junior doctors strike will continue on Thursday and Friday.

Both consultants and junior doctors will then hold further joint strikes on October 2, 3 and 4.

In response to this week’s strikes, health secretary Steve Barclay said his department would ‘take steps to protect patient safety and ensure the health service has the staff it needs to operate safely and effectively’.


What is the dispute about?

Before today, junior doctors had staged 19 days of strike action since March. Today, they were joined by consultants, in the first such ‘joint’ strike action in NHS history.

So what are the doctors asking for - and what has been the government response?

Junior doctors say they want salaries restored to achieve the levels they were vat before the economic slump of 2008/9 ushered in years of austerity.

They also want the government to agree a mechanism that would protecdt junior doctor salaries against the cost of living and inflation in future.

The government, however, says that restoring junior doctor salaries to 2008 levels would require a pay award of 35 per cent – and would cost an extra £2 billion: money it says it does not have.

It says its current pay offer is 10.3 per cent for doctors who started their hospital tr5aining this year – with an average pay rise of 8.8 per cent for all junior doctors.

York Press: Health secretary Steve BarclayHealth secretary Steve Barclay (Image: PA)

Consultants are asking for a pay rise at or above the rate of inflation. The government says it has offered a 6 per cent pay rise alongside reforms to pensions.

Doctors insist there is much more at stake than their own salaries. The government’s failure to pay ‘internationally competitive’ salaries means there are problems recruiting, plus a constant drain of experienced staff to better-paid jobs abroad.

Responding to this week's strike action, health secretary Steve Barclay said: "This week's coordinated and calculated strike acvtion will create further disruption and misery for patients and NHS colleagues.

"Doctors who started their hospital training this year are receiving a 10.3% pay increase, with the average junior doctor getting 8.8% and consultants are receiving a 6% pay rise alongside generous reforms to their pensions, which was the BMA’s number one ask.

"In the face of ongoing and escalating strike action, we will continue to take steps to protect patient safety and ensure the health service has the staff it needs to operate safely and effectively."