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Junior doctors should go back to work if patients are at risk – GMC

New guidelines for next week’s planned junior doctors’ strikes from the General Medical Council (GMC) have urged doctors to go back to work if the strike puts patients at risk.

The strikes, due to run from 8am to 5pm on 26 and 27 April, will be the fifth strike by doctors over an unpopular new contract involving a reduction to the times eligible for antisocial hours pay but the first to include a total withdrawal of labour, including from emergency care.

The GMC guidelines urge doctors to think again about the impact of strikes on patients and warn that it would be wrong to withdraw services where, as is likely, it will put patients at risk.

The guidelines say: “If, during the industrial action, it becomes clear that patients are at risk in a local area because of inadequate medical cover, and doctors in training are asked in good faith to return to work by employers, we expect they would fulfil this request. In the event of an emergency, we know doctors in training will always come forward.”

They add that doctors should ensure that they can be contacted during the strike in the event that contingency plans are overwhelmed.

When Professor Terence Stephenson, chair of the GMC, announced the guidelines last week he said that although he sympathised with the strikes, doctors should be mindful that they ‘could not be done’ without increasing the risk to patients.

Niall Dickson, chief executive and registrar of the GMC, who prepared the guidelines, said: “The GMC recognises that there is anger and frustration among doctors in training following the breakdown of negotiations and the decision of the government to introduce a new contract. We have no role in contract negotiations and it would be inappropriate for us to comment, other than to observe that everyone must regret the current situation.”

In a follow-up statement, the GMC also said that doctors should raise concerns with their supervisors if they felt contingency rota design was unsafe for patients.

The GMC also reiterated that it does not take a position on the contract itself and have made no assessment of its safety, although it said: “We absolutely recognise that doctors in training across the UK are feeling alienated and angry. We are committed to working with others to address the underlying concerns about the pressures they face, the support available to them, their well-being and the particular challenges of ensuring training pathways are flexible enough for those who need it. These go beyond the contractual issues in England.”

BMA offer to call off strike if Hunt cancels contract imposition

Today Dr Johann Malawana, chair of the BMA junior doctors’ committee, also wrote to Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, saying that doctors will call off the strike if Hunt agrees to call off a decision to impose the contract on junior doctors, the legal validity of which was questioned by opposition MPs yesterday.

Dr Malawana said: “This is a clear offer in a bid to avert industrial action. Simply put, if the government agrees to lift the imposition, junior doctors will call of next week’s action.

“With preparations underway for the first full-walk out of doctors in this country, the government cannot continue to stick its head in the sand. It must now listen to the many voices raising concerns about its mishandled plans and do what it has refused to for far too long: put patients first, get back around the table and end this dispute through talks.”

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


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