Junior doctors will be on strike today after the government decided to impose controversial new employment contracts on them.
A 48-hour walk-out by the British Medical Association (BMA) started at 8am in a long-running dispute between medics and the Department of Health.
The latest strike involves all junior doctors except those on call to provide emergency cover.
But in an escalation of its campaign the BMA will hold a full strike with no emergency cover from 8am-5pm on April 26 and 27.
The government is also facing two legal challenges over the new contracts, which medics fear will lead to unsafe working conditions.
A judicial review by the BMA alleges that the government “failed to pay due regard” to the impact on equality.
And in separate proceedings by NHS campaign group Just Health, it is alleged that the government did not allow for adequate consultation over the new terms of employment.
The group raised £100,000 from a crowdfunding website to launch the claim.
In its appeal for funds, Just Health said: “We are challenging the imposition of an unplanned and dangerous contract which will affect patient wellbeing and safety.”
The BMA is furious that the government imposed the contracts instead of reaching a negotiated deal.
Dr Johann Malawana, who chairs the BMA’s junior doctors committee, said: “The government’s shambolic mishandling of the process, from start to finish, has alienated a generation of doctors, the hospital doctors and GPs of the future, leaving a real risk that some will vote with their feet and the future of patient care will be affected.”
The Department of Health claims the BMA was to blame for a breakdown in negotiations. A spokesperson said: “This escalation of industrial action by the BMA is both desperate and irresponsible and will inevitably put patients in harm’s way.
“If the BMA had agreed to negotiate on Saturday pay, as they promised to do through ACAS in November, we’d have a negotiated agreement by now. Instead, we had no choice but to proceed with proposals recommended and supported by NHS leaders.”