Junior doctors walked out of Lancashire’s hospitals this morning for a 24-hour strike after last-ditch talks yesterday failed to reach an agreement.
The doctors - all medics below consultant level - were providing emergency care only from 8am for the second time in a month in a national row over new contracts.
Picket lines were set up outside many of the county’s hospital.
At the Royal Preston around a dozen junior doctors with placards and banners staged a protest at the main traffic entrance on Sharoe Green Lane. Many motorists hooted their horns in support as they passed.
Spokesman Dr Richard Yardley said: “We are very, very grateful for the public support. So far it seems like they have been behind us.
“We appreciate that some elective services have been postponed and that is deeply regrettable. But we feel like we have been backed into a corner on this issue.
“The Government just aren’t talking to us, so we feel this is the only way we can get them round the negotiating table.
“Our message to Jeremy Hunt is let’s have a contract proposal that’s fair and safe. Work with us and let’s move forwards.”
A new survey ahead of the walkout suggested nine in 10 junior doctors could quit if the current contract terms are imposed.
The first strike in January led to thousands of operations, procedures and appointments being cancelled at hospitals including Royal Preston and Chorley and South Ribble hospitals.
The major sticking point in the dispute is over weekend pay and whether Saturday should be largely classed as a normal working day.
Currently, 7pm to 7am Monday to Friday and the whole of Saturday and Sunday attract a premium rate of pay for junior doctors.
An offer from the Government in November said doctors would receive time-and-a-half for any hours worked Monday to Sunday between 10pm and 7am, and time-and-a-third for any hours worked between 7pm and 10pm on Saturdays and 7am and 10pm on Sundays.
But in a new offer, dated January 16, ministers said that as part of an overall agreement, a premium rate of pay could kick in from 5pm on Saturdays rather than 7pm.
Furthermore, premium pay could start at 9pm Monday to Friday.
This offer has so far been rejected by the BMA. The Government has strongly suggested it will impose the contract if no agreement can be reached.
It is understood the BMA put forward a proposal that would have seen doctors’ basic pay rise by about half the 11 per cent offered by ministers in return for Saturday not to be treated as a normal working day.
The union argued it would have been cost neutral, meaning the Government would not pay any more than the £5bn currently spent on junior doctor salaries.
But it is thought the Government blocked that deal.
One junior doctor out on strike today decided to “do something more constructive” instead of standing on the picket line and organised a basic life-support session for parents with young children at the Tiny Rockers play centre in Buckshaw Village near Chorley.
Dr James Wilson, an anaesthetist working in Wigan, said: “I didn’t want to stand in the cold, so I am running this session to give parents some basic tips in things like CPR and choking.
“The Royal Preston Hospital has lent us some life support mannequins to practice on.”
The session started at 10am and continues until 12 noon.