Doctors' strike 'about patient safety, not pay'

Dunedin junior doctors say they are in for the long haul as they begin their second two-day strike this month.

Members of the Resident Doctors Association union walked off the job at 8am today and will not return to work until 8am on Thursday.

If their picket outside Dunedin Hospital this morning is any evidence, the union has doubled its determination - twice as many doctors were protesting this morning as at their first strike a fortnight ago.

"It's nice to see more support this morning,'' local RDA organiser James Anderson said.

James Anderson, local organiser for the Resident Doctors Association. Photo: ODT
James Anderson, local organiser for the Resident Doctors Association. Photo: ODT

"I think we're all just incredibly frustrated because we all hoped this would be settled after mediation talks last Thursday, but we made no progress at all.''

After mediation failed last week, notice of a third doctors' strike - on February 12 and 13  was lodged.

An RDA spokesman said the doctor's main bone of contention with district health boards was a bid by their employers to remove the union's right to agreement on various issues.

Those included rotation to another employer outside the city boundaries, a combined period of "on call'' and "on duty'' exceeding 16 consecutive hours, and the right of the RDA to agree or disagree to an alternative roster pattern.

Those provisions protected doctors and ensured patient safety and the union would continue to fight to preserve them, the spokesman said. 

Dr Anderson said he would not be surprised if more strikes happened, as doctors were determined to retain their terms and conditions.

"This is not a pay strike, this is a patient safety strike.''

Southern District Health Board chief executive Chris Fleming said hospitals, including emergency departments, would remain open during the strike and would continue to provide essential and urgent services.

"Our contingency planning team has been working hard with teams across the DHB to prepare for this action, including contacting patients whose surgery or appointment has been postponed.''

Enough doctors were working so that some scheduled procedures were still able to be carried out so patients should still come to their scheduled appointments unless they had been contacted directly by the SDHB, Mr Fleming said.

 - mike.houlahan@odt.co.nz

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