latest health care news

28.09.16

Junior doctors major High Court loss ‘helps hold Hunt to account’

Junior doctors have lost a High Court battle after claims that health secretary Jeremy Hunt had abused his powers by seeking to impose a divisive new contract were rejected by Mr Justice Green.

In a judgement published today, Green said he rejected all three grounds the junior doctors had been arguing for: that Hunt had no power to impose terms on which staff were employed; that he breached requirements of transparency; and that he had acted irrationally in pursuing the new contract.

The judge argued that Hunt acted “squarely within the scope of his lawful powers” and had not attempted to impose the new contract, but rather recommended it to trust bosses. He also rejected the argument that the “evidence base upon which the minister acted was inadequate” or that Hunt had misled Parliament.

The DH celebrated the ruling, with a spokeswoman arguing: “We must now move on from this dispute to the crucial job of making sure patients get the same high standards of urgent and emergency care every day of the week, which involves more than the junior doctors’ contract.

We urge the BMA to remove all threat of further industrial action so we can work constructively with junior doctors to address their wider concerns and better recognise their vital importance to the NHS.”

A victory for the doctors?

Despite the loss, junior doctors – who were present at the two-day hearing last week in London as part of the Justice for Health team – counted the decision as a victory. They said the clarification that the contract was not an imposition meant doctors were not legally compelled to sign the new terms.

“This allows the employees and employers at a national level to negotiate and agree terms which are genuinely in the interests of patients and staff,” Dr Amar Mashru, one of the five doctors who brought the legal challenge, told the Guardian.

In a statement on the Justice for Health website, doctors added: “We have worked very hard to get this case to court and we are thankful to have had the opportunity to hold Mr Hunt to account. The judicial review proceedings were necessary to gain clarity in the law and force Mr Hunt to answer for his conduct.

“We hope it sets a precedent for better ministerial conduct and deters the SoS [secretary of state] from making statements about imposition on other NHS staff groups.

“Whilst we hoped for the top result, we have met our initial goal to extract clarity from the SoS and will now move on. We resolve to help the BMA to exert legal pressure in any way possible to combat the exploitation of NHS staff and annihilation of good quality patient care we have witnessed at the hands of this health secretary.”

They also noted that the group “may explore further legal challenges and campaigns” on behalf of NHS staff and patients “after a short break”.

Today’s ruling comes just a week before the new contract is expected to start being rolled out. The process of changing the terms of conditions of the 54,000 doctors below the level of consultant is expected to last around 18 months.

It also comes on the same day as the BMA’s decision to extend Hunt an olive branch by inviting him to a symposium on improving seven-day patient care.

 

(Top image c. Andrew Matthews)

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