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Next junior doctors’ strike will put patients at greater risk – GMC chair

The planned junior doctors’ strikes at the end of this month, in which doctors will stage an unprecedented withdrawal of all care including in emergency medicine, cannot be done without putting patients at risk of harm, the chair of the General Medical Council (GMC) has said.

Professor Terence Stephenson said that he sympathised with the “deep-seated concerns” of junior doctors, who are striking over the imposition of an unpopular contract which includes a reduction of the times available for anti-social hours pay.

However, he urged doctors to consider the impact of the strike, warning it will become harder to justify as each subsequent strike has a greater impact on patients – for example, problems for patients in chronic pain will increase each time an elective operation is cancelled. The most recent two-day strike, on Wednesday and Thursday last week, led to 5,165 operations being cancelled.

Professor Stephenson said: “Taking thousands of doctors out of emergency frontline care in England is unprecedented and cannot be done without putting patients at greater risk of harm. To suggest otherwise would be a disservice to the enormous contribution made by doctors in training to the care and treatment of NHS patients every day.

“The circumstances facing each doctor will be different and the decision must be based on an assessment of their individual situation. We are not suggesting that industrial action can never be justified but it does become increasingly hard to justify the longer the action goes on, the more intense it becomes, and the more patient care suffers as a result. Before we reach the next day of action, doctors who are thinking about taking part should carefully consider the impact it will have on patients – both the cumulative effect and the additional risks created by withdrawing emergency cover.”

He also said that the GMC are preparing new guidance for doctors contemplating strike action, based on “the fundamental principle that the first concern of every doctor must be the welfare of their patients”.

On Friday Dr Johann Malawana, chair of the British Medical Association (BMA) junior doctors’ committee, who are leading the strikes, said: “Let me be clear: no doctor wants to have to take any further action.

“They want to be at work, doing what they do day in, day out, caring for patients, but this contract will be bad not only for doctors but for the long-term delivery of patient care.

“It is not too late to avoid further action and end this dispute through talks.”

Writing in the Guardian today Sir Bruce Keogh, medical director of the NHS in England, said: “Doctors are the most trusted profession. This trust is a privileged gift bestowed on us by society, but it brings responsibilities and expectations. One of these expectations is that we are there when people need us most.

“By withdrawing emergency cover, we risk crossing a line, which will irreparably damage this trust and the reputation of our profession. So I encourage every doctor considering withdrawing emergency cover to dig deep and ask whether such action is fair to patients or compatible with the values and privilege of being a doctor.”

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


Dr. Koshy   11/04/2016 at 13:24

I appreciate the GMC stand on this. However, I would have appreciated it more if a balanced view was taken wherein the Government was also apportioned its responsibility in this issue because of its inflexible stand and refusal to enter into meaningful negotiations.

Dr Geoff Lawson   11/04/2016 at 13:54

I do not believe that any doctor has not considered this issue very carefully, and most if not all would prefer not to take part in industrial action. However could I ask Professor Terence Stephenson and Sir Bruce Keogh as doctors themselves what action is legitimate. What can the medical profession do when it is clear that the NHS is being systematically undermined. Would it be best to stand silently and allow this to happen without staunch resistance?

NA   11/04/2016 at 17:05

Prof. Keogh's remarks are hypocritical. He is in a cushy job and is being paid to undermine the junior doctors' cause. All they are asking is for not having their pay cut and status qou for working hours. That is not unreasonable. The strategy of this government is to push them into a corner and then try to blame them for the problems of the NHS when they strike. This is only the beginning. The senior doctors are next in line.

Robin Turner   11/04/2016 at 17:19

It is one thing to read in the National Health Executive web page the Chair of the GMC, Professor Terence Stephenson, and the Medical Director of the NHS in England, Sir Bruce Keogh, giving their views of risk and damage to trust due to the strike. It would be another thing if they would please publish the communication they have had with the Secretary of State regarding risk due to the strike and the risks and damage done to trust regarding the Secretary of State's actions, statements and decisions in the dispute. The people could then judge what balance they are providing in the dispute.

Richard Simpson   11/04/2016 at 17:23

Whilst it is clearly the GMC duty to protect patients failure to call upon the government to renter negotiations and simply to warn of the effects [potentially] on patients in the short term is totally unbalanced. I lived through the mass emigration in the 60s and we are on the cusp of a similar exodus. We cannot rely on colleagues from India and Pakistan coming to our rescue this time. GMC should be warning of this possibility as well. Hunt should resign and let someone else takeover he has become toxic

Junior Doc   12/04/2016 at 00:01

There is a lot of negativity in the press for junior doctor or doctor in general. The escalation in strike is happening due to a lunatic who is unfortunately our health secretary. He and the PM in general does not want to negotiate as they want NHS to privatise. It's already happening in various sector of healthcare behind the logo of NHS. We are not asking for pay rise as I think we should do as the government has increased the cost of education. Every doctor who is coming out from medical school is in debt of 70-100K after spending five to six years after a level. Can anyone tell me is any professional coming out with same debt to start ? The NHS CEO said it will damage the patient trust.... Can he tell me, when we have not got staff to run the current rota safely due to 30-40% empty junior doctor posts especially at middle grade level and the NHS trust relying on Locum staff. How they can deliver 7 day rota with the existing number of doctors. The good medical practise of GMC also said at number 25/b. "If patients are at risk because of inadequate premises, equipment* or other resources, policies or systems, you should put the matter right if that is possible. You must raise your concern in line with our guidance11 and your workplace policy. You should also make a record of the steps you have taken." Can the GMC president will say something in public to the government to clear this mess which is putting the patient in danger and destroying the whole system.

Metindall   12/04/2016 at 08:48

So much has been made of the numbers of operations cancelled because of the junior Drs strike. Some one needs to ask the question - on a daily basis how many operations are cancelled due to a shortage of beds?. The numbers of operations lost due to the Drs Strike would not seem so great. Someone needs to talk to patients who almost get to the theatre door and then have their operations cancelled every day in the NHS. Don't blame junior Doctors its an endemic feature of the NHS

Linda   12/04/2016 at 09:20

Drs being blamed for failings of govt and society in general enough to make one sick; but nothing new. Maybe once the NHS has gone patients will appreciate what they had too late of course.

Angshu Bhowmik   18/04/2016 at 14:36

It is disappointing that Prof Stephenson is being rather one-sided and not asking Mr Hunt to withdraw his threat of a contract which is unnecessary and irrelevant to the aim of producing better 7-day health service cover. That would be the easiest way to improve the lot of the patients.

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