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'Soul-destroying': Junior doctors take to picket line for 10th time in call for more pay and better service for all

"Underpaid and overworked" junior doctors took to the picket lines in Birmingham today for the 10th time in their long-running pay dispute with the Government.

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The five-day walkout, which began at 7am on Saturday and will last until 11.59pm on Wednesday, comes after a 16-month dispute with the Government that is yet to bring about the changes that the junior doctors are demanding – a wage increase from £15 to £20 per hour.

The pay isn't the only issue – though that has seen a huge 26 per cent real-terms fall in the last 15 years. Dr Arjan Singh, who was striking outside Queen Elizabeth hospital today but predominantly works in London, says there needs to be a focus on retaining doctors and creating a better health service for all.

Doctors strike at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham

"People in this country have worked their whole lives paying for an NHS," he said, "they deserve something that is not dysfunctional but the best.

"The NHS was the best, so it is soul-destroying to work in a system that is very bad. There is no goodwill left, so doctors are leaving. Who loses? Well doctors lose, but also the public lose.

"We don't do 26 per cent less work, we don't see 26 per cent less patients – on the contrary, I don't think we have ever been working harder.

Doctors strike at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham.

"It's not about fairness for doctors, it is about retaining doctors. How do you do that? You give them a credible pay offer, and that is why we are here today. No one wants to leave, it is a huge commitment, but it's getting to the stage now where, as a consultant you can get three to 10 times as much money in other countries for less hours, and you've got the facilities to provide top quality care.

Striker Marie Tolan holding a sign reading: "26 per cent cut in pay keeps the doctor away"

"To be completely honest, the care that we provide in the NHS is rubbish – it's diabolical. Our cancer care is horrific. To get an ADHD assessment in Kent, for example, it's a seven-year waiting list. This is not good healthcare. This is rubbish healthcare."

NHS bosses say it is 'vital' that those who need care during the strikes come forward and get it in the usual way – by calling 999 or going to A&E in an emergency, or by calling 111 in a non-emergency.

By the end of this action, hospital doctors will have taken 44 days or 1,056 hours of industrial action.

Doctors strike at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham.

British Medical Association (BMA) representative Dr Nicole Hill, who works at Bath hospital but is originally from Birmingham, said: "The British public needs doctors to look after their health. They need to be able to see a doctor when they need to. We need doctors to stay here and look after our people rather than flee to other countries where they're paid better. We want to stay and be able to provide the best care to the British people.

From left: Dr Thomas Fisher from Bristol Hospital, and BMA representative Dr Nicole Hill from Bath hospital outside Queen Elizabeth Hospital

"We are staying in the UK because we want the NHS to survive. The NHS needs investment, most importantly in its staff. At the moment it is surviving off the goodwill of its staff.

"For example, recently a doctor was working a day shift, and due to a last-minute sickness, was asked to cover the night shift as well. The doctor may feel pressurised to accept this in order to cover the gap and not let their team and their patients down, but they could forget they are a human being as well and need rest to provide the best care.

"Our patients deserve better than this. We need more staff and more money so doctors are not put in this position.

"We have to keep fighting for this NHS and for our patients."

Dr Shivram Sharma, also at the picket line, said: "We have been in dispute with the Government for 16 months now and we've yet to be provided with a credible offer. All we are asking for is a doctor that is paid £15 an hour to be paid £20 an hour – that's £20 an hour to provide life saving treatment. I think most people would find that to be very reasonable.

"We are not even asking for all that to happen in one go – we understand that 15 years of pay cuts is difficult to overturn overnight.

"We have told to government we are looking to find creative ways and potentially a pay deal over a certain number of years, but the government is yet to come forward and provide us with a credible offer. The ball is in their court now to sort this out, or things will continue to get worse.

"I've seen so many of my colleagues leave who are now living in Australia and are earning many multiples of the salary here and having a much better work-life balance. These are talented British doctors that we need to focus on retaining."