A west London GP has warned that imposing controversial new contracts on junior doctors would leave hospitals unable to operate safely.

Speaking as the latest junior doctor strikes got under way on Tuesday (April 26) , Dr Nick Grundy said hospitals were already struggling to fill big gaps in their rotas, and this would be made worse if Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt forces the new contracts on staff as planned .

The Teddington GP said that in one department at West Middlesex Hospital , in Isleworth , 22% of registrar shifts for May remained unfilled, with that figure closer to 40% for night shifts, and hospitals across the country were facing similar difficulties.

He was confident these gaps would be filled without any threat to patients' safety, partly through senior doctors acting down to cover the posts, but said the situation was not sustainable.

'Changes would leave service unable to cope'

"Hospital rotas right now are barely coping, and driving away students and doctors at every stage of training, and introducing a contract which discriminates against women in a workforce which is predominantly female is going to leave the service unable to cope," he told getwestlondon .

READ MORE: Emergency care information for patients during latest junior doctors strike

Dr Grundy, who worked as a junior doctor at West Mid before qualifying as a GP, said the dispute was already turning people away from the medical profession.

He pointed out that UCAS applications for medicine and dentistry had fallen from 98,910 in 2014 to 88,550 last year, and said the percentage of foundation doctors entering specialist training had slumped from 71.3% in 2011 to 52% in 2015 as many disillusioned medics opted to take a break or change their career path.

Junior doctors on the picket line outside West Middlesex Hospital earlier this year (photo by Quddous Ahmed)

"If the government succeeds in imposing this contract, who will be left to sign it?

"What will happen to hospital trusts who didn't want this fight – 90% of them don't feel the current contract is a block to reform – but are left trying to fill rotas without anything like enough junior doctors to do it, and with a cap on locum rates, again imposed by the government, stopping them being able even to fill them with temporary staff?

'Protest is over safety - not pay'

"The proposed contract removes the only effective safeguard on doctors' hours, which suggests that the juniors who do remain will just be spread thinner, will be working longer hours, and will be more tired when they do so.

"That's not a pay issue – it's a safety issue."

The latest walkout on Tuesday (April 26) and Wednesday is the first full strike by junior doctors, but cover has been arranged to ensure hospitals can provide emergency care.

The cast of cult sitcom Green Wing joined the picket line for the last junior doctors strike in April.

The cast Of Green Wing on the picket line outside Northwick Park Hospital

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has said the new contracts will improve patient care outside of normal working hours, especially at weekends, and claims a 13.5% rise in basic pay means no junior doctor will be worse off.

But the British Medical Association (BMA) has rejected the offer, saying it will hit those already working the most unsociable hours, making it harder to attract and retain doctors, and could put patients' safety at risk.

One junior doctor in west London threatened to quit in February as Mr Hunt announced the new seven-day contracts would be imposed after talks with the BMA reached an impasse.

Only non-urgent appointments affected

Responding to the figures about unfilled rotas at West Middlesex Hospital, a spokesman for Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the hospital, said: "Our hospital rotas are updated dynamically and shifts will be filled on the day.

"Our staff will continue to work flexibly during the strike, as they have done before, to deliver the best possible services for patients."

He added that only patients with non-urgent appointments would be affected by the latest industrial action, and they had already been contacted.