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Nurses join picket lines during junior doctors' strike

Nurses have been using their breaks and spare time to support junior doctors who have been on strike across England today, while also working to keep services running as smoothly as possible.

Nurses support doctors Barney Newman

Junior doctors are in dispute with the government over plans for their contracts and tens of thousands of medics have only been providing emergency cover today.

The British Medical Association (BMA) says the government's plans would not provide proper recognition for working unsocial hours, among other concerns, while the government says there will be limits on the hours that junior doctors work and they will get an 11% higher base pay. 

Unison called on its healthcare staff members, including nurses, to show their solidarity with the doctors.

Nurses support doctors Barney Newman

Unison, Unite, the RCN and other unions issued advice to nurses not to take on extra work which they would not be paid for or which they were not skilled to take on during the action.

At University Hospital Lewisham in London, one of its doctors, Helen Fidler (@drhfidler), tweeted praise for the hospital's endoscopy nurses who came and stood on the picket line a few hours into the strike which began at 8am and which lasts until 8am tomorrow.

At Milton Keynes University Hospital, fifth year surgical registrar Naomi Warner (@nazwarner) reported that the surgical nurse practitioners brought out coffee and sweets to striking doctors.

Nurses joined the picket line outside University College Hospital (UCH) in London and one nurse – Esther King – proudly held a placard reading ‘Safe Happy Doctors = Safe Happy Nurses’.

Nurses support doctors Barney Newman

At UCH’s Westmoreland Street site nurses Nikki O’Brien, who works in the thoracic centre, and staff nurse Althia Turner were keen to defend the strike action.

In a video published by the BMA, Ms Turner said: ‘The junior doctors work so many hours Monday to Friday they often don’t go home and have to stay on site.’

Ms O’Brien said: ‘Often we have to go and get them for an emergency and then when it’s over they have to go and try and sleep again.

‘They don’t get paid enough for that.’

Throughout the day, nurses have been using social media to back the strike.

Bassetlaw Hospital emergency department nurse Kirsty Bowers (@kirkylou22) used Twitter to simply say: ‘I am a proud nurse supporting our junior doctors who do an amazing job #ProudNurse #NeedRecognition #JuniorDoctors’

Meanwhile, despite the strike action, some hospital trusts told Nursing Standard it had been business as usual for nurses and other healthcare staff on the wards.

A spokesperson for London North West Healthcare NHS Trust which runs Central Middlesex, Northwick Park and Ealing hospitals said several hours into the strike: ‘Everything is fine, everyone is coping well and no extra duties have been required of any nurse.’

A spokesperson for Royal Brompton & Harefield NHS Trust said some clinics had to be cancelled.

Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said: ‘An NHS where the same high quality care is provided, regardless of the time of day or the day of the week, will not come cheap.

‘But [health secretary] Jeremy Hunt thinks he can offer more to patients by paying dedicated healthcare professionals much less.

‘Other NHS staff fear that the dispute with junior doctors could be the dry run for a much bigger confrontation.

‘They suspect ministers also want to axe the unsocial hours payments that they get for working nights and weekends.’

Retired nurse Patricia Thomson saw her planned operation cancelled today by Worthing Hospital in West Sussex.

Ms Thomson worked for 40 years before retiring in 2000 and told ITV: ‘I’m totally against any form of industrial action by medical staff.

‘I don’t think it’s professional – what’s happened to the Hippocratic oath?

‘I worked full-time and I worked seven days a week and sometimes more than that perfectly happily. It was a privilege; we were taught to look after patients.’

There are two further strikes planned in January and February. The next one is due to start at 8am on January 26 until 8am on January 28 and will again see junior doctors providing only emergency care.

It will be followed by a full walkout from 8am to 5pm on February 10 which nursing students are vowing to support for one hour in their own row over the government's plans to scrap bursaries.

NHS England said that everything possible is being done to ensure the provision of safe emergency care and to minimise the impact on patients.