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In Photos: England's Junior Doctors Protest as All-Out Strike Enters Second Day

VICE News attended a march in central London on Tuesday which saw thousands of medical practitioners protest against the government's move to implement controversial new contracts.

by Sally Hayden
Apr 27 2016, 3:15pm

Photo by Sally Hayden/VICE News

Tens of thousands of England's doctors are currently on strike, as a stand-off over new contracts continues between them and the British government.

Tuesday saw 78 percent of the 55,000 junior doctors — who have graduated but are still undergoing specialist training — withdraw from giving care including emergency treatments, with their work covered instead by consultants and senior medical practitioners.

Junior doctors have not yet qualified to become consultants or family doctors, but may have graduated more than 10 years ago and are generally between the ages of about 25 and 40.

The strike is continuing for its second day on Wednesday. More than 100,000 appointments and around 13,000 non-emergency operations were canceled because of the dispute.

The National Health Service (NHS) has set up an advice page, while asking patients only to attend accident and emergency units if it is "essential."

Despite the disruptions, a poll carried out for the BBC found that public support for the junior doctors has increased, with 64 percent of UK residents surveyed now blaming the government for the standoff, up from 54 percent in January.

Related: England's Doctors Walk Out of Emergency Wards in First Ever All-Out Strike

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has accused the British Medical Association (BMA) trade union of going for an "outright win" over the new contracts rather than compromising.

"Where health secretaries have made mistakes in the past is where they have been too willing to compromise on patients' safety," he told parliament on Monday.

The BMA has said the sticking point is how anti-social hours are being defined in the planned changes to contracts, which would mean an extension of standard working hours to include evenings and Saturdays. Many junior doctors also accuse Hunt of using the new contracts as a step towards privatizing the health service.

Hunt has offered an 13.5 percent basic pay rise but the BMA says this is offset by an overall reduction in the pay for anti-social hours, particularly Saturday pay — disputed by the government which says three quarters of doctors will take home a pay rise.

On Tuesday, VICE News traveled with a busload of doctors from King's College Hospital in Camberwell, south London, as they drove around the city before joining thousands of others for a march through Parliament Square to Prime Minister David Cameron's residence at 10 Downing Street.

Demonstrators on the bus chanted slogans like, "Hey, ho, Jeremy Hunt has got to go," and told passersby, "We are striking for your safety." In response, many of those walking London's streets or working on building sites around the city waved or cheered in response.

Speaking at the march on Tuesday evening, opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn called the NHS "the greatest achievement of our country," while praising the junior doctors' commitment.

Labour Party leader Corbyn told attendees the NHS is under threat from the current Conservative government which is "is more interested in attacking the core of the NHS than supporting the NHS and people that keep us all alive."

"You would have thought a government who cares about its health service would listen to its experts," 29-year-old Jeeves Wijesuriya, a junior doctor on the Junior Doctors' organizing committee and one of the organizers of the protest, told VICE News. He said actions will continue after Wednesday, with the BMA currently considering what further options are available to them. "We want an end to this," he said, adding that the possibility of a negotiated settlement is still there.

Wijesuriya said the current government is "turning a recruitment and retention crisis into a recruitment and retention disaster," adding that the profession is united in this, with colleges and seniors backing them. "We cannot accept this contract."

A man in south London waves in support at the busload of junior doctors. (Photo by Sally Hayden/VICE News)

A passerby in Brixton, south London, reads a leaflet given to him by protesting junior doctors. (Photo by Sally Hayden/VICE News)

Builders cheer as the busload of junior doctors passes. (Photo by Sally Hayden/VICE News)

Thousands of junior doctors marched outside the Houses of Parliament in central London. (Photo by Sally Hayden/VICE News)

Junior doctors gathered to walk over Westminster Bridge and through Parliament Square to 10 Downing Street. (Photo by Sally Hayden/VICE News)

Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn came out to support the junior doctors. (Photo by Sally Hayden/VICE News)

A junior doctor holds up a sign at the protest outside Prime Minister David Cameron's residence at 10 Downing Street. (Photo by Sally Hayden/VICE News)

Members of other trade unions also joined the march in support of the junior doctors. (Photo by Sally Hayden/VICE News)

Follow Sally Hayden on Twitter: @sallyhayd