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09.09.15

Date set for MPs to debate ‘no confidence’ in Hunt

The House of Commons Petitions Committee has set a date to debate a vote of no confidence in health secretary Jeremy Hunt after an online petition received more than double the needed signatures.

The Committee has scheduled a debate on Monday (14 September) at 4.30pm to discuss the petition, which called for Hunt to be sacked as health secretary after he “alienated the entire workforce of the NHS by threatening to impose a harsh contract and conditions on the first consultants and soon the rest of the NHS staff”.

The petition garnered almost 220,000 signatures, above the 100,000 threshold needed to trigger a debate in Parliament.

It reflects widespread outrage sparked after Hunt launched what doctors see as an attack on their profession, by issuing a contract ultimatum over seven-day working in July.

In response to it, the government said it “feels it is under an obligation to the public to do all it can to make NHS care at the weekend as safe as during the week through the delivery of seven day services”.

The debate will be led by Labour MP Helen Jones and broadcasted live from Westminster Hall.

The Committee has also recognised a similar petition published on Charge.org calling for the resignation or removal of Hunt as health secretary, assuring it will inform its signatories about the actions taken after the debate.

That petition, which attracted almost 108,000 supporters, claimed Hunt has angered NHS workers with “out of touch policies, flippant remarks about NHS staff and a real sense that he does not consider the NHS workforce to be valuable”.

It added that signees were calling for him to resign or step down, acting as a vote of no confidence in his leadership.

Last year the government asked independent pay review bodies for NHS staff to review and recommend how reformed employment contracts could support seven-day services.

Their reports, published this month, identified that a “major barrier” to this change is a “decade-old contractual right” in consultants’ contracts that allow senior doctors to opt out of non-emergency weekend and evening work.

Earlier this month, the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) said proposals for seven-day working are “unrealistic”, as more than one in 10 GP roles are vacant.

It called on NHS England to “concentrate its efforts on strengthening the GP workforce” to ensure the current five-day service model is “robust and better integrated”.

Chair of the RCGP, Dr Maureen Baker, said: “It is simply unrealistic to be thinking about seven-day working when our existing five-day service and out of hours GP services are under so much pressure.

“Many GP services are already offering extended hours. However, opening for extended periods is pie-in-the-sky for many family doctors who are already working exceptionally long hours in clinic to cope with demand.

“The government needs to move away from its obsession with providing a seven day NHS and do more to implement the joint 10-point plan to build the GP workforce and ‘recruit retain and return’ thousands more GPs as soon as possible, so that we can provide a good, solid and safe five-day service, and out of hours service, for our patients. Routine seven-day working may improve patient safety in hospitals but in general practice it could have the opposite effect.”

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