Hundreds of junior doctors in Watford were joined by colleagues from the NHS this morning as they went on strike over pay and conditions.

Around 200 junior doctors from Watford General Hospital joined thousands nationwide who are leaving their posts for 24 hours to protest against government plans to change their contracts.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt says he wants junior doctors' working patterns to become more flexible in order to deliver the "seven-day NHS" the Conservatives promised in the general election.

He plans to extend the times of the week junior doctors are paid only basic rates for working, from the current 7am to 7pm Monday to Friday to 7am to 10pm on weekdays and from 7am until 7pm on Saturdays.

But the British Medical Association (BMA) says the Government’s proposals will reduce safeguards on the number of hours junior doctors can work, abolish increased pay for unsocial hours and cut pay for A&E staff.

Standing on the picket line, 40-year-old junior doctor Abby Zabron said: "We did not become doctors to strike, this is a last ditch attempt to get our concerns listened too.

"We feel like the NHS is under threat with these new proposals, along with patient safety."

Appointments have been cancelled at the hospital, with ten operations postponed during the first doctors' strike for 40 years.

The hospital's A&E remains closed to patients with minor illnesses after it was shut last week.

NHS staff who are members of UNISON said they will be using their breaks and lunchtimes to join their junior doctor colleagues on picket lines.

Saliha Mahmood, 28, of Watford, said: "The changes will impact on the whole of society and we need to take a stand.

"We understand there will be disruption at the hospital, but we have worked closely with our supervisors to make minimise the impact.

"We haven't been listened to up to this point and all we want is for negotiations to get back on track."

A ‘Meet the Doctors’ event is being held at St Mary's Church in Church Street, where the public can ask doctors any questions they have about the strike (below).

Watford Observer:

Watford MP Ricahrd Harrington said: "I firmly believe that the contract has to be renegotiated.

"There is absolutely no question about how hard junior doctors work and the new contract will reduce the working week to a safer level of 72 hours.

"Of course working unsociable hours should be remunerated properly, but the current pay programme means that hospitals find it difficult to roster doctors on the weekends, and this is why there is currently three times less medical cover on weekends compared to weekdays.

"On the basis of this deal, 75% of doctors will see their salary increase, and those who are working legal safe hours will not lose out on pay.

"A reduction in anti-social working rates will be offset by an 11% increase in basic pay."

Speaking on behalf of West Herts Hospital Trust, which runs Watford General, Kelly White said: "Making sure our ward patients as well as urgent and emergency admissions are looked after safely during this industrial action has been our number one priority.

"Having worked hard with our senior clinical leaders to put in place our business continuity plans, we’re pleased to report that the majority of our services will run.

"However, we are asking patients to please bear with us if their care and treatment takes us more time than usual.

"We have written to a small number of patients apologising that if the strike goes ahead their appointments or planned surgery will be postponed for safety reasons."

Watford Elected Mayor Dorothy Thornhill said the situation needed to be sorted out.

She said: "The fact that this is the first strike in 40 years speaks volumes and shows the government is not listening.

"It shouldn't have been able to get this far, I hope it is sorted soon."

A second strike will take place on January 26, when junior doctors will take to the picket line again for two days from 8am on Tuesday, January 26, leaving only emergency care covered.

A total walkout is planned for Wednesday, February 10 between 8am and 5pm.