Junior doctors have apologised for disrupting services at Lynn Queen Elizabeth Hospital during this week’s strike, but insist they had no choice.
Picket lines were set up outside the Gayton Road site on Tuesday morning as the 24-hour stoppage called by the British Medical Association (BMA) began.
The strike was arranged after talks between the union and NHS employers broke down last week. Further discussions on Monday failed to resolve the dispute.
Four clinics and one day surgery list were cancelled as a result of the strike, while two other surgery lists were cut. A number of appointments were also rescheduled.
Dr Shrestha Sinha, an anasthetic registrar at the QEH and a local BMA representative, said he wanted to apologise to patients whose services were being disrupted by the walkout.
But he stressed that emergency care would continue to be provided as normal and patients who need to attend the hospital should still do so.
He added: “We’re causing some disruption today to stabilise tomorrow. That’s the real concern.”
The dispute relates to proposed changes to junior doctors’ pay and working hours, which ministers insist are necessary in order to create seven day a week services.
North West Norfolk MP Sir Henry Bellingham said there had been a number of reports examining ways of improving weekend care and maintained all sides were agreed the issue needed to be addressed.
He also claimed that only two of 16 concerns raised by the union remained outstanding when negotiations broke down.
And he added: “I hope both sides will get back round the table and resolve this. I think it’s a great tragedy this dispute has got to where it has.”
But the BMA fears the plans could harm patient care because of what it perceives as the weakening of safeguards designed to prevent staff from working extensive hours.
Dr Sinha said he was worried the current dispute would not be the last and questioned the Government’s claims about NHS funding.
He said: “At the moment it’s junior doctors. Next it could be nurses or physiotherapists. It’s not safe and it’s not fair.
“They’re talking about an £8 billion increase in funding but they want £20 billion in efficiency savings. With a £10 billion cut they want to increase service output by 40 per cent. Their sums don’t add up.”
But Sir Henry maintained the contract issue did not apply to other NHS staff and insisted that the government was protecting NHS funding.
A further 48-hour strike, in which junior doctors will again provide emergency care, is scheduled to begin at 8am on January 26.
And a nine-hour walkout, when they intend to withdraw their labour completely, is scheduled for February 10.
Dr Sinha said he hoped the dispute could be resolved without those stoppages taking place.
He added: “I was hoping I wouldn’t be here today. It saddens me that it had to come to this and I hope that, by making a stand today, we’ll be able to make further progress in the talks.”
Sir Henry agreed that a resolution needs to be found quickly to prevent further disruption to the public.
He said: “I hope, in the interests of constituents, this will be sorted out.”