The University of Nottingham’s (UoN) Students’ Union and MedSoc held a gathering on Portland steps at 1pm on 12th January 2016 to show solidarity for health care professionals amid tensions over junior doctors’ contracts.

Students’ Union President Angharad Smith opened the protest with a speech, thanking students and staff alike for “coming and supporting medical students who are faced with grave difficulties caused by new government proposals”.

She highlighted that it was a chance for the University of Nottingham’s SU to “join together with other unions” as the “student body has the power to change things”.

Angharad also urged gatherers to tweet Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt with the hashtags #BursariesorBust and #NotSafeNotFair.

“Today marks a day of unprecedented industrial action by doctors – the first since 1975”

The hashtags form part of a national social media campaign protesting against cuts to bursaries for Nursing students and proposals to change junior doctors’ contracts which could see their working hours increase significantly.

The UoN gathering was originally scheduled to take place in December but was cancelled after re-negotiations between the British Medical Association (BMA) and Jeremy Hunt were announced.

However, the BMA and Hunt were unable to reach an agreement that satisfied the needs of the UK’s health care professionals and as such, further strikes by health care professionals have been scheduled throughout the country.

In his speech during today’s event, SU Community Officer Sam Peake highlighted that “today marks a day of unprecedented industrial action by doctors – the first since 1975”.

He reminded those present that the strikes are “supported by 98% of junior doctors” which by logic “tells us it is a significant movement”.

“Is there any surprise that there are more deaths during four days of the week than the other three?”

Sam then detailed the government’s response to the junior doctors’ protests. He joked that all present would “welcome” Jeremy Hunt’s decision not to give interviews today and elicited laughter from the crowd when quoting Boris Johnson’s claim that those who support junior doctors’ strikes are “communists” and “see Jeremy Corbyn as the Messiah”.

Sam also addressed claims by the government that 8,000 extra deaths in hospitals are caused over the weekend, highlighting that the report containing this statistic shows that there is no link between the figure and the hours worked by junior doctors.

Arousing a round of applause from the crowd, he stated: “The government’s report also describes weekend work as Friday to Monday. That’s four days of the week – is there any surprise that there are more deaths during four days of the week than the other three?”

“I never thought I’d be standing here talking about how shit the government is”

Kim Stallard, President of MedSoc was the final speaker. Asking the crowd to raise their hands if they were “worried that when [they] are tired [they] do not work well” – and receiving a unanimous response of agreement – she stated that junior doctors were protesting because they were “worried about patient care” caused by doctors’ exhaustion.

She added: “If you’re here, you support yourself as a patient. I never thought I’d be standing here talking about how shit the government is, but at the same time it’s really great that we’re all here today”.

Kim’s recognition that protests are centred on patient safety and doctors’ wellbeing is echoed in a leaflet, produced by the British Medical Association, being handed to passers-by outside of Nottingham’s Queens Medical Centre hospital.

The pamphlet explains that junior doctors believe the government’s plans will “harm the next generation of doctors and the future of the NHS itself”.

“If the bursaries were not provided, there is no way I would have been able to do my nurse training”

In addition to concerns for junior doctors, protestors are also campaigning against plans announced in the government’s Autumn Statement to scrap bursaries for Nursing students.

The proposals would see the grants currently provided for Nursing students replaced with loans, which has led to fears over access to education for those without the financial means to support themselves.

Kaitlin Clarke, a second year Nursing student, told Impact: “If the bursaries were not provided, there is no way I would have been able to do my nurse training and I would have had to avoid university altogether”.

Tamsin Parnell

Image: Impact News

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