Junior doctor strike action ballot to open 5 November

An official ballot for junior doctors to vote on strike action will open next month and is set to run until 18 November, the BMA has announced.

The doctors’ union reiterated that balloting is not a decision it has taken lightly and that it understands the full implications, but still believes it is the right thing to do to “defend the current and next generation of junior doctors”.

The ballot is a direct response to the government’s threat to impose a new contract from August 2016 in spite of failed talks with the association’s trainee doctors.

The BMA is now saying that it will only re-enter negotiations if the government and NHS Employers withdraw their threat to impose a new contract and provide a series of assurances, including:

  • Proper recognition of unsocial hours as premium time
  • No disadvantage for those working unsocial hours compared to the current system
  • No disadvantage for those working less than full time and taking parental leave compared to the current system
  • Pay for all work done
  • Proper safeguards protecting patients and their doctors
  • Source: BMA

According to the BMJ, nearly three-quarters of junior doctors (72%) claim they would leave the NHS if the government imposes the contract, according to 4,150 respondents from a closed junior doctors’ online forum.

The announcement of a ballot also follows a second rally in central London, which saw thousands of junior doctors, their families and other health service personnel protesting at Waterloo Place.

They had previously taken to Downing Street in September, soon after NHS Employers claimed that it was set on imposing the reformed contract.

NHE has also put together an exclusive detailed timeline of the longstanding dispute between junior doctors and Whitehall dating back to 2013, including all key events in the contract row.

Commenting on the ballot, Dr Johann Malawana, BMA’s junior doctor committee chair, said: “This is not a decision that we have taken lightly, but the government’s refusal to work with us through genuine negotiations and their threat to impose new contracts that we believe are unsafe for patients and unfair for doctors, leaves us with few options.

“The health secretary has accused junior doctors of misleading the public over the impact of his changes, yet at the same time he continues to conflate junior doctors’ legitimate concerns and the government’s rhetoric on seven-day services.

“The truth is that the junior doctor contract is in no way a barrier to seven-day services, with the vast majority of junior doctors routinely providing care to patients 24/7.

“Until the government lifts the threat of contract imposition and gives the BMA the concrete assurances we require we will continue with the action junior doctors are demanding. The time is well overdue for ministers to listen to what junior doctors are telling them.”

According to the Guardian, health minister Ben Gummer MP said that he was disappointed that the BMA decided to put patients at risk by asking “hardworking, responsible” junior doctors to strike, “without even negotiating on their behalf”.

“We have already given absolute assurances that the pay bill won’t be cut and hours will go down and not up,” he added.

And speaking to BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme ahead of last week’s rally, health secretary Jeremy Hunt said it was incredibly disappointing that the BMA had misrepresented the government’s position.

“It’s caused a huge amount of anger unnecessarily. We don’t want to cut the pay going to junior doctors. We do want to change the pay structures that force hospitals to roster three times less medical cover at weekends as they do in weeks,” Hunt said.

Hunt ‘misrepresented’ weekend deaths study

Hunt used an academic study published in the BMJ to support his claims that NHS weekends see a lot more “avoidable” deaths than weeks do.

But the BMJ’s editor in chief, Fiona Godlee, wrote to Hunt yesterday (21 October) accusing him of having misrepresented the article.

She said that health secretary misused the findings of the analysis and asked him to clarify statements he has made in relation to it.

Godlee said that the article, by Nick Freemantle, reported an analysis of 30 day mortality after admission to English hospitals, finding an excess number of deaths amongst patients admitted at weekends – including Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

“What it does not do is apportion any cause of that excess, nor does it take a view on what proportion of those deaths might be avoidable,” she continued.

The fact that Hunt told MPs and the public that these excess deaths were due to understaffing at weekends “clearly implies that you believe these excess deaths are avoidable”.

To show that Hunt understands the issues involved, Godlee asked him to clarify his statements.

The letter also came after two doctors wrote to the Cabinet Office asking for an investigation into Hunt’s claim of poor staffing, accusing the health secretary of breaching the ministerial code of conduct by misrepresenting official statistics.

“It appears Mr Hunt deliberately and knowingly misquoted and misinterpreted the conclusions of a medical research publication in an attempt to mislead the other members of Parliament and the UK public,” they said in the letter.

But responding on behalf of Hunt, Gummer said: “Significant independent clinical evidence shows increased mortality in our hospitals at weekends linked to reduced clinical cover.

“The BMJ authors themselves acknowledge that – and any debate about precisely how many of the thousands of deaths are avoidable misses the point.

“What all doctors want is to provide the best care for their patients, and the public rightly expect the highest standards whichever day of the weekend they are admitted to hospital – the government is committed to supporting that.”

(Top image c. Neil Hall, Reuters)


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