29 Jan 2019

Junior doctors' strikes could extend into February

6:47 pm on 29 January 2019

Junior doctors are threatening to keep striking throughout February unless hospitals back down in their employment row.

Dr Gregory O'Neill joins the picket line outside Wellington Regional Hospital

Doctors strike outside Wellington Regional Hospital. Photo: RNZ / Karen Brown

Doctors walked off the wards again today - at the beginning of their second 48-hour nationwide strike over proposed job changes.

Between 40 and 50 junior doctors picketed outside Wellington Regional Hospital from 8am.

They said they took to the streets two years ago to gain safer hours in their current employment deal, but their employers now wanted to water it down.

Senior registrar Brian Corley said he didn't want to see that happen.

"I've worked in Ireland before I came over here because the working conditions are so much better.

"We we're quite pleased with the fact that we have safer hours, more time to rest after working long hours. We can do the job that we're supposed to do better with sufficient rest."

Dr Corley said District Health Boards [DHBs] want to remove the power of the doctors' union - the Resident Doctors Association - to veto some changes to work practices it doesn't like.

"I mean we have elected them to represent us for a good reason. It's not for the DHB bargaining team to tell us who represents us. We will tell them who represents us and the RDA represent us."

Junior doctors strike in Wellington.

Junior doctors strike outside Wellington hospital. Photo: RNZ / Karen Brown

Wellington Hospital emergency department doctor Tessa Ramsden backed that.

"At the moment our union can protect us from being forced to shift hospitals, being forced to work long hours, longer than we already do and more hours in a row than we already do.

"And they want to take the union out of those negotiations, which would leave us incredibly vulnerable," she said.

Dr Ramsden said planned changes to rosters haven't affected emergency departments yet, but she understands the problem of long hours at work.

"We do shift work and the roster changes haven't personally affected me, but I think it's really important to support all my colleagues because I remember what it was like when I was a house surgeon doing 12 days in a row and seven nights in a row and it was horrendous."

Wellington Hospital cardiology house surgeon Gregory O'Neill conceded the current pay and employment deal was not perfect when it came to complex hospital rosters.

"Nothing is perfect but the current attitude of the DHBs seems to be that they wish to dictate everything, and they're not negotiating in good faith as far as any of us can see."

Dr O'Neill said the changes DHBs want appeared to make little sense and junior doctors would continue to fight against them.

"We will be forced back out on strike again in February.

"We've already had to give notice for mid-February and we're voting at present on a further set of strikes for the end of February."

Anaesthetic trainee Rohit Katial.

Rohit Katial. Photo: RNZ / Karen Brown

Anaesthetic trainee and union delegate Rohit Katial said doctors were aware of the disruption to patients, but insisted industrial action was necessary.

"I don't think it's going to have a huge impact on the acute care of patients - it shouldn't do.

"It is a bit worrying the impact... they might have on elective [non-urgent] cases and things, which is why we want to get to an agreement as soon as we can."

For their part, DHBs say they don't want to roll over the current employment contract, which has expired, for another three years.

They say aspects of that system, including doctor training, has problems and many have acknowldeged that.

DHBs also said demand for some services was higher than they had hoped for today, but contingency planner Anne Aitcheson said that hospitals managed well.

"A number of the hospitals were very busy and full first thing this morning, so the staff are actively working hard to ensure that we can provide support to those patients who have no option but to be in hospital at this time."

Hospitals are reminding anyone who's unwell not to stay away and go to a local emergency department if needed.

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