“We feel discouraged”: the young doctors on strike are exhausted but determined to continue fighting | doctors

“I’m looking forward to getting back to work, getting back into the routine,” said radiologist Matthew Alexander. “No one wants to be here, no one wants to strike.”

Alexander, 30, is one of about 50 young doctors who took part in a picket on Thursday morning at the Friarage hospital in Northallerton, a bustling market town in Rishi Sunak’s sprawling North Yorkshire constituency.

It’s a sunny day; There’s happy, enthusiastic chanting and plenty of support from honking drivers, but it’s abundantly clear that only Betty, a laid-back 11-year-old Jackapoo dog, is almost happy to be there.

Matthew Alexander: “Nobody wants to strike.” Photograph: Mark Pinder/The Guardian

“It’s difficult,” said Sarah Peters, a 26-year-old doctor currently working in neurosurgery.

“Just explaining to family members is difficult and knowing that your colleagues are going to have a harder day at work because you’re not there,” she said.

“I didn’t come to this profession for this; I came in to help people, but we have no choice but to strike. “It’s sad that it has come to this.”

The five-day strike by junior doctors is the 11th action in their long-running pay dispute and people on the picket spoke of being worn down by their working conditions but equally determined to keep fighting to improve them.

“We feel disheartened,” said Tom Sharp, a trainee GP in Leeds. “I think young doctors are fed up with low pay and conditions and that’s why so many are leaving for places like New Zealand where pay and conditions are much better.”

The five-day strike by junior doctors is the 11th action in their long-running pay dispute. Photograph: Mark Pinder/The Guardian

He added: “Sadly, this has a direct impact on patient care. People will not get the NHS they deserve.”

Sharp knows people who have left the NHS and moved to other countries. “They will stay there, they will not return to the NHS.

“I’ve thought about it too. “I think you would be hard-pressed to find a doctor who hasn’t thought about it.”

Emma Runswick, a junior doctor in Greater Manchester and vice-chair of the BMA council, echoed those sentiments.

He has friends who went to New Zealand and recently returned to the UK for a wedding.

“They said, ‘Look at the state of the NHS in this country, look how much better we have it in New Zealand.’

“They are a couple and they are being paid 70% and 100% more than us (she and her partner) for the same hours. Because? Why would they want to return? And they work in a service where they don’t have to constantly apologize for the delays we see here. They have no reason to apologize. “They have all the staff.”

Runswick understands that some people look at the 35% pay demand made by junior doctors and think it seems like a lot.

“It sounds ridiculous, but it only sounds ridiculous because that’s what we’ve lost. The only thing we ask for is the salary they paid us in 2008.”

Emma Runswick: “The only thing we ask for is the salary we were paid in 2008.” Photograph: Mark Pinder/The Guardian

Runswick said the money the doctors were asking for was a “bargain” in the scheme of things “and not even close to what they could pay us elsewhere.”

It is also a dispute over patient safety, protesters said. Peters said burnout in the NHS was “out of control” and doctors were permanently working in understaffed environments.

“The government has had many opportunities to negotiate,” he said. “I understand that they have now spent more on the strikes than they would have to give us the wage agreement we have asked for.

“When they say there is no money… clearly there is.”

Some observers have questioned why a strike is necessary when the current government appears to be on the verge of resigning. Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting has promised to start negotiations on his first day in office.

The Northallerton picket line is less than 10 minutes from Sunak’s country home in North Yorkshire. Runswick said: “We have to deal with the government we have at the moment which is led by Rishi Sunak. We have been asking for something credible from him for 20 months.

“If we don’t take action, our salaries will continue to fall in real terms and our colleagues will continue to leave the country.”

He said the mix of emotions on the picket line was reflected more widely in the NHS.

“There has been a lot of despair, but actually one thing that the dispute has given doctors is being able to turn that despair into a little anger, a little hope. “We are finally doing something about the degradation of service.”

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