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Junior doctors’ contract could breach equality law

The junior doctors’ contract could breach international equality law, according to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

The EHRC’s report into the new contract, which has been leaked to the Guardian, echoes judicial review complaints by the British Medical Association (BMA) that it could discriminate against women doctors, especially those with children, and disabled doctors, by reducing the times available for antisocial hours pay, which they are less likely to be able to work.

The report says that if the contract is found to create adverse working conditions for women compared to men, it will breach Article 7 of the UN’s International Covenant on Economic, Cultural and Social Rights, which obliges signatories, including the UK, to ensure that women do not have poorer working conditions than men.

An EHRC spokesperson said: “It is important that Government ensures the new contract of employment for junior doctors does not unlawfully indirectly discriminate against some doctors, and that it properly considers the potential impacts of the contract on equality of opportunity. This should include considering the effect of changes to the rules on career progression and pay protection of doctors who take maternal, parental and other leave. We note the BMA’s application for judicial review, which may provide clarity on the legal position.”

A Department of Health spokesperson said: “This is nonsense and misunderstands the government’s obligations. Under this contract for the first time all doctors will get equal pay for equal work, rather than being paid for time served, to create a genuinely level playing field for men and women.”

The report comes as the first all-out strike by junior doctors in NHS history came to an end without either side giving a concession.

Dr Johann Malawana, chair of the BMA junior doctors’ committee, wrote to health secretary Jeremy Hunt, repeating the BMA’s offer to resume talks if Hunt lifts the imposition of the contract.

Dr Malawana said that it was not true, as Hunt has stated, that the only outstanding issue in the dispute is pay for Saturday working hours.

He said issues to be discussed included protection against working excessive hours without appropriate rest, fair acknowledgement of the impact and definition of shift patterns, pay for all work done, first refusal for locum work and national locum rates, transitional arrangements, safeguards and individual trusts’ ability to vary terms.

“I want to work with you to build trust between the Government and junior doctors and to ensure that becoming a doctor is still an attractive career choice in this country. We’re all aware of the significant challenges the NHS faces and we will need motivated, engaged doctors, supported by first-class training and fair working conditions, to address these and deliver the quality of patient care to which we are both committed,” said Dr Malawana.

“So, my offer still stands: lift imposition so that talks can resume. I will meet you and your team at any time to deliver the above. Given the urgency of the situation, I look forward to hearing from you as soon as possible.”

The BMA committee is due to meet on 7 May to discuss future options, which could include mass resignations or an indefinite strike.

NHS England said that care was cancelled for over 100,000 patients during the two-day strike, with 78% of junior doctors not turning up for work.

Dr Anne Rainsberry, national incident director for NHS England, said: “We’re not going to pretend the last two days have been easy but the NHS has remained open to business for patients.

“The health service has coped admirably to date thanks to extensive planning and the exhaustive efforts of other staff. However, the strike has undoubtedly increased pressure on a service already facing increasing demand.”

(Image c. Philip Toscano from PA Wire and Press Association Images)



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