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Hancock considering ‘modest’ boost to junior doctor contract in bid to ‘put past behind us’

The government is prepared to consider “modest additional investment” in the junior doctors’ contract (JDC) – one of the major points of contention during Jeremy Hunt’s tenure – in order to help “put the past behind us and move forward.”

In a letter to BMA Council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul CBE, health and social care secretary Matt Hancock said that while it is too early to say what level of investment would be appropriate, his department is now open to evaluating this possibility as the review of the 2016 JDC progresses.

During Hunt’s time at the job, the contentious contract was a key lightning rod for wide-ranging staff concern surrounding government pay. Trainee doctors launched several days of strike action and went as far as taking the row to the High Court, where they argued the contract imposition would harm patient care and fail to attract new members of staff. The overwhelming majority of BMA members voted against it and, at one point, the dispute showed no sign of slowing down.

But the new secretary of state has made clear in his letter to Dr Nagpaul that he is keen to disassociate himself from his predecessor’s reputation and work with the union to “address the challenges that face us both for employed doctors and GPs.”

“For all groups I want to see agreements reached that give fair reward for the difficult jobs that you do and sort out some of the longstanding shared concerns about your working lives – contractual and non-contractual,” Hancock wrote.

Describing junior doctors as a “crucial part of the NHS workforce” and the “medical leaders of the future,” Hancock said he is determined to ensure their contract fairly reflects the value society places on them. This means a contract which enshrines safe working, supports high-quality training, pays fairly, reflects doctors’ weekend commitment, and supports part-time trainees.

“I am pleased that the terms of reference for the review of the 2016 contract have been agreed. They will provide a good framework to iron out some glitches and agree how we can make it safer, fairer and simpler,” he wrote.

“I look forward to reaching an agreement that allows us to put the past behind us and move forward. To support this, we are prepared to consider modest additional investment (in addition to recycled resources) if that would support improved patient care. It is too early to say what level of investment would be appropriate but I will consider this as the review progresses.”

His letter also addressed other sections of the NHS workforce. For example, the health secretary wants to get around the table as soon as possible to agree a long-term pay deal for consultants, including contract reform – all backed by a “frank, open discussion about how we can work together to do a deal that pays fairly, improves morale, values doctors – and in doing so meets our shared aim of improving patient care.”

“I have asked my officials for advice on what resource envelope could potentially be available for the right long-term agreement, to inform those discussions in October and subsequent discussions with employers,” he added.

Hancock has also asked NHS England to look to agree a multi-year contract settlement with the GP Committee and has announced that, if this agreement is reached, GPs will receive an extra 1% in the 2019-20 baseline on top of the funding agreed in the contract negotiation.

(Top image c. Ben Birchall, PA Images)


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