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20.04.16

Hunt refuses BMA olive branch to cancel strikes

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has again refused to resume negotiations with junior doctors over an unpopular new contract, saying that halting the contract’s introduction at this point would create “unacceptable disruption” for the NHS.

Dr Johann Malawana, chair of the British Medical Association (BMA) junior doctors’ committee, wrote to Hunt yesterday saying the BMA will call off the planned strikes on 26 and 27 April if Hunt called off a decision to impose the contract, which features a reduction in the times eligible for antisocial hours pay, after previous strikes failed to reach an agreement.

Hunt replied that the BMA’s refusal to compromise on Saturday pay has made settlement impossible, and that the strikes, which include an unprecedented withdrawal of emergency care, will put patients in danger.

Hunt wrote: “If you had been willing to discuss this during the negotiation process with Sir David [Dalton] then we would have a negotiated outcome by now. Because you were not, we were left with no choice but to introduce a new contract which more than 500 doctors have already signed up to.

“It is not now possible to change or delay the introduction of this contract without creating unacceptable disruption for the NHS. It is clear that the industrial action you plan will put patients in harm’s way. The first step to averting this must be serious recognition of the offer that Sir David made, so that we can have talks about the many other areas where training and quality of life can be improved for junior doctors.”

Hunt’s use of the word ‘introduce’ is significant. Government lawyers in ongoing legal challenges to the contract have emphasised that the Department of Health are ‘introducing’ rather than ‘imposing’ the contract, and Hunt has used both words, leading to opposition MPs challenging his legal authority to impose the contract.

The health secretary also echoed warnings from the General Medical Council for doctors to question whether they should withdraw care for patients, saying: “But we must be clear that anyone deciding – at your urging – to withdraw potentially lifesaving care for patients is making a choice to do so. Many will find this disproportionate given the matter still in dispute is Saturday pay rates.”

He also says that the contract “is based on equal pay for work of equal value and is not discriminatory”, despite the government’s own equality analysis saying that it could lead to reduced pay for women doctors with children, who are less likely to be able to work the antisocial hours.

(Image c. Lauren Hurley from PA Wire/ Press Association Images)

Comments

Dr Geoff Lawson   20/04/2016 at 12:42

Mr Hunt feels that "It is not now possible to change or delay the introduction of this contract without creating unacceptable disruption for the NHS" despite there being 3 months before introduction of the new contract. Almost simultaneously in March NHSE announced that Cancer, Diabetes, Urgent Care, CAMHS and Maternity Services were to be the priorities for Clinical Networks as from the new financial year. This effectively removed funding and therefore support from Regional Neurology and Child Health Clinical Networks with one months notice. But of course this won't cause an unacceptable disruption for the NHS.

Steve Cribb   20/04/2016 at 17:39

Why on earth has the BMA position just not moved to a mass process of letters of intent to withdraw from service at "the end" of the current contract period? Assuming a "new contract" is imposed/introduced/announced, whatever, then no doubt doctors do not have to remain emplyed under it. If all but 500 JD's leave their posts...then the NHS hospital service will collapse, even Hunt will yield to this. He's attempting to gain the public moral ground when JD's withdraw emergency cover for 2 days, either way he wins as it's either that or a BMA/JD climbdown from that action.

P. Hogarth   20/04/2016 at 19:18

I have never agreed to strikes and the doctors should not continue with industrial action. Many jobs are spread over Severn days. Get real your behaviour on picket lines is a disgrace.

James Shipman   20/04/2016 at 23:49

I am a medical director with very few junior doctors however my personal view is that strikes are wrong and imposition of a new contract is wrong. Both sides are currently in an impossible lose-lose position. There has to be a win-win solution to improve the outcomes for our patients (the reason I chose medicine as a profession) as well as the working lives of our future generation of doctors (and medical leaders). Negotiation based on quality and finance on an equal footing, cognisant of the current and future workforce challenges is a pragmatic way forward.

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