East London NHS staff walk out on second day of pay and patient safety dispute

Over 100 of East London’s doctors and hospital staff protested outside the Royal London Hospital today as a dispute about pay and patient safety escalates, reports Josh Mellor, Local Democracy Reporter

Over 100 people gathered outside Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel today to challenge pay and patient safety. Credit: LDRS

East London’s doctors and hospital staff protested in Whitechapel today (20th September), on the second day of an escalating dispute about pay and patient safety.

More than 100 people gathered outside the Royal London Hospital holding signs, blowing horns and playing loud music to passing pedestrians and vehicles.

The British Medical Association, which represents doctors, has organised escalating strikes with both junior doctors and consultants striking together today for the first time.

Tomorrow will also see junior doctors go from working “Christmas Day” levels of service to a “full walkout”.

Unite the Union, which represents NHS facilities staff such as cleaners and porters, has also been striking at East London’s two hospital trusts this month.

Dr Simon Walsh, a Barts Health consultant in emergency medicine and deputy chair of the British Medical Association’s UK consultants committee, said the strikes are continuing because the government is “refusing” to talk to doctors about pay.

He added: “Concerns around pay are directly related to the retention of doctors in the NHS and are impacting on the ability for doctors to provide patients with the service they need.

“East London, like many parts of the country, has difficulty retaining the most valuable staff.

“We’re talking about people who have gone through years and years of training, people who completed a degree and we are increasingly finding that consultants are leaving the NHS and going abroad on the global market where pay and conditions are much more favourable than on the NHS.”

“At the moment the government’s only response to that is to bring in more people as medical students, but if you got a leaky bucket on the way to fix that is to fix the leak, rather than pouring more water in.”

Dr Simon Walsh, Credit: LDRS

Dr Walsh apologised for any delays patients are seeing to their care due to strikes, but said there is already a “strong link” between doctors leaving the NHS and “record waiting lists”.

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He added: “Having too few doctors means it’s much more difficult to do the job.

“There’s more stress, burn out and sickness and people are leaving the NHS because they are unable to sustain it.”

Len Hockey, branch secretary for Unite the Union, which represents about 1,800 striking hospital staff, said NHS workers are facing a “dire situation”.

He added: “We’re also here for safe staffing levels, which is ultimately linked to the pay of staff and job retention crisis which the NHS is blighted by.”

Elizabeth, a Barts Health staff member, said she is one of 1,800 workers who transferred from Serco to the trust in March 2023.

While staff such as security, porters, trainers and nurses received a £1,655 lump sum as part of a national pay deal for NHS workers, her colleagues who work as domestic staff and cleaners did not.

She said: “They say it’s because we completed the contract in May and the others did in February.

“Everybody worked during Covid – imagine during that time with aprons and gloves and masks every day – the work was difficult.

“Even training staff got the money and they didn’t see any patients.

“We worked so hard and we didn’t get anything, why?”

East Londoners needing emergency care are advised to attend accident and emergency as normal or call 999.

For other health concerns, 111 or GP services should be used.

Routine services, including non-emergency operations and appointments, are likely to be impacted.

Health Secretary Steve Barclay has said this year’s pay rise was a “final and fair” settlement.

The government has given consultants 6% and junior doctors an average of 8.8% depending on their level.

But junior doctors are asking for a 35% increase, to make up for years of below-inflation wage rises.

Matthew Trainer, chief executive of Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Trust (BHRUT) – which runs Queen’s Hospital in Romford and King George in Goodmayes – has warned that the strikes are costing the NHS ”millions of pounds”,  and are damaging morale and leading to longer waits for care.

He added: “Our doctors feel their skills, hard work and dedication aren’t valued.

“I am particularly worried about our junior doctors. 

“They are our future consultants, medical directors and CEOs. They believe they are not being treated with respect. 

“We need meaningful negotiations and a settlement. 

“An imposed pay award and repeated strike action isn’t tenable as the NHS heads into winter. We can’t run our hospitals like this.”

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