Members of the public have been on the picket-line supporting striking junior doctors at the Countess of Chester Hospital in the first ever full walk out by medics in the history of the NHS.
Emergency cover has been withdrawn by junior doctors across England in a dispute over the imposition of new contracts by health secretary Jeremy Hunt.
The action has been taking place between 8am and 5pm today (Tuesday, April 26) and will happen at the same time tomorrow (Wednesday, April 27).
The health secretary wants the NHS to work at capacity seven days a week with routine operations taking place at weekends as well as during the week alongside the basic emergency service.
Junior doctors claim it will lead to stressed out doctors working longer hours and potentially putting patients’ lives at risk.
Despite the drastic move to withdraw emergency cover, Chester residents got up early to stand alongside the doctors this morning with plenty of supportive tooting from passing motorists - one even dropped off bacon butties.
Lisa Rossetti, from Handbridge, who was accompanied by her husband Peter, said: “Oh yes, we set the alarm! We completely support the junior doctors. We think it’s disgraceful the public are being deceived into thinking it’s all about their pay. It’s not about their pay, it’s about safety for patients.”
A former IT and management trainer within the NHS, she added: “My grandchild recently was taken in to hospital, to the Countess, and was beautifully looked after.”
Former Labour city councillor John Fetherston, who lives in Hoole, sees the strike as bigger than just a terms and conditions dispute believing the privatisation agenda looms large.
The ex-trade union convenor at Vauxhall Motors in Ellesmere Port added: “We’re supporting our local health service and national health service. It’s dear to us all and there’s one party determined to destroy it and there’s thousands and millions of people who want to preserve the NHS.”
Lilian Chapman, who lives near the hospital in Upton, said: “I’m here today to support the junior doctors because without them a lot of us wouldn't be alive.”
She added: "I think Jeremy Hunt is doing the wrong thing in trying to force them into an agreement that is not good for them and is not good for the NHS. I think he should back down.”
Labour borough councillor Matt Bryan, a governor at the Countess, was keen to show solidarity with the striking junior doctors over the imposition of a contract he feels is ‘unjust, unfair and illegal’.
“It’s going to put patients at risk. It’s going to put doctors in a position where they don’t feel they can do their job and it’s absolutely outrageous,” he added.
Richard Atkinson from Boughton is a political activist but also an MS sufferer who is an ongoing user of the NHS.
He said: “I think this strike is really about the defence of the NHS. It’s not just an ordinary strike about pay and conditions. It’s about stopping their plans for the NHS, stopping their nonsense plans for seven day operations, stopping their plans for privatisation.”
'We all rely on NHS'
Paul Jones, from Upton, said: “I’m here because I support the junior doctors. We all rely on the NHS, most of us were born in the NHS. Most of us will be in the NHS at some point during our lives and will end up here.”
Expressing the government line is Tory MP Antoinette Sandbach, who represents the Eddisbury constituency, covering many of the villages near Chester.
Supporting a seven-day NHS, working at full capacity, she said: “There is clear evidence from independent medical studies that those admitted at weekends have worse outcomes than those admitted during the week.”
'Reduced hours and more pay'
She added: “The new contract reduces the hours of junior doctors and increases their pay, by 13%.
“I am deeply concerned that lives will be put at risk by those doctors who are striking and I went to Leighton Hospital on Friday to discuss the implications. The clear conclusion that I received from that meeting is that lives will be lost. That is something that I can not countenance on behalf of my constituents.”