Nearly 100 junior doctors picketed the front entrance of the Bristol Royal Infirmary in hail and sunshine as patients’ non-emergency care appointments were cancelled.
Doctors stood outside chanting and handing out badges, stickers and leaflets to a largely supportive public.
Car horns honked in encouragement from 8am onwards, including ambulances leaving A&E.
Patients themselves struggled through the picket line to get to their appointments, while many were told to stay at home after their medical treatments and check-ups were postponed.
Despite the difficulty getting into the hospital, many patients backed the doctors’ strike action and happily wore stickers they doled out.
Cancer patient Ruth Wilkinson, 59, was in for a scan at the BRI and applauded the staff.
“They’ve been marvellous,” she said. “They warned me it was going to be happening.
“When I had cancer all the doctors and nurses were wonderful and they deserve fair pay, I’m fully behind them.”
Elspeth Bowden, 52, from Shirehampton, Bristol, was visiting her mother in the hospital.
She said: “The doctors work so hard. I fully support them. Stop paying the footballers millions and start paying the doctors.
“They saved my son’s life a number of times in the children’s hospitals and my mother is fighting for her life in the BRI now. They’ve been wonderful.”
Her friend Jo Green, 43, also from Shirehampton, added: “They should definitely be on strike.
“They work so tirelessly and hopefully this will make the Government listen. They helped my friend who’s got brain cancer.”
But the day’s events left some patients confused.
Ben Butler, 73, is waiting for a heart valve to be fitted and came to the hospital after showing symptoms of a virus.
He said: “It’s alright in there but we’re not getting many answers.
“I see where the government is coming from but I know why the doctors are doing it too.
“They should hire more so people can do better shifts – I worked in security and we had four days on and three off. There would always be people chasing overtime.
“I think this is less about money and more about time. The 10 or 12 hour shifts are too long.”
But while the local public were largely positive, some were running out of patience.
Patricia Argen, 64, who visited the hospital for a hydrotherapy session, believes the junior doctors are fighting a losing battle and should quit.
“It’s not going to affect me today because I’m going to have hydrotherapy in the department as I’m riddled with arthritis,” she said.
“But it’s been going on for too long now and they’re not going to get what they want, so they might as well stop.
“The thing is if it’s money at the end of the day and not hours then, sorry, they shouldn’t have gone into the profession in the first place.
“I think there are lives in danger even more so now and I think they should give up. Because it’s money at the end of the day, not the hours.”
Numbers of doctors swelled throughout the day, peaking in a midday sit-down protest where they sat in silence with hospital masks on their faces.
A paramedic passed round cupcakes while hospital security tried to keep vital access to the emergency entrance clear.
The exasperated security guard said: “It’s going quite well so far but they need to make sure they’re not blocking the entrance. Some of the wheelchairs are having trouble getting in.
“I understand why they’re doing it but at the end of the day it is still a hospital.”
The medics even brought out their guitars at one point in the afternoon and took part in an NHS-themed singalong, giving a new twist to the Beatles’ ‘Let It Be’ and Dido’s ‘White Flag’.
They held placards bearing messages such as ‘Who Do You Trust – 53,000 doctors or Hunt?’, ‘Not His for Sale’, and ‘Not Safe Not Fair’.
The doctors themselves were adamant that strike action was necessary, although they acknowledged the impact on patients.
Matthew Horne, a junior doctor in the stroke unit, said he will consider leaving the UK if the new contracts are imposed.
“I’m striking for equality and safety,” he said. “It’s not fair that the government is imposing this contract on us as it is putting patients lives at risk.
“I am considering moving to a different country if this continues, as are many of my colleagues.
“Applications for medical degrees are down. It’s a consequence that the government just aren’t considering.
“This wasn’t an easy decision, none of my colleagues wanted to be on strike today. But I know the BRI is well prepared – we’ve done all we can to cover.”
A junior doctor called Anya, who declined to give her surname, said: “We’re already in a crisis.
“There’s lots of rota gaps and we’re already having to work with a skeleton staff in the NHS and this will only make it worse.
“There are plans afoot for more strikes and more walkouts because the government don’t seem to be listening to us.
“We want the government to work with us on this to achieve the best outcome for our patients.
“Public reaction has been really good. Almost everyone I’ve spoken to has been really supportive.
“We are not striking for pay. This is not the message we want to get across.”
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