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Junior doctors vote to ditch further negotiations on new contract

September deadline too short; safety concerns still remain, they claim

Caroline White

Friday, 14 August 2015

Junior doctors have voted not to re-enter negotiations with the government over its proposals for a new contract because of safety fears.

The thumbs down was prompted by the government’s insistence that the BMA accepts all of the recent recommendations on a new contract made in July by the Review Body on Doctors and Dentists Remuneration (DDRB), by mid-September.

This would not allow junior doctors to negotiate over proposals the BMA believes are unsafe for patients, unfair to doctors, and would undermine the future of the NHS, it says.

The BMA says that the DDRB recommendations would extend routine weekly working hours from 60 to 90. Working at 9 pm on a Saturday should not be viewed the same as working at 9 am on a Tuesday, it insists.

The plans would also remove vital safeguards that discourage employers from making junior doctors work dangerously long hours — a sticking point that prompted contract negotiations to stall last year — and would see pay no longer matching the experience juniors gain through their training, it says.

Junior doctors are also not prepared to accept changes that they believe will devalue the profession or water down their pay through an expansion of ‘plain time.’ Like all NHS staff, junior doctors provide care for their patients around the clock and this commitment should be reflected in their rate of pay, says the BMA.

Routine (‘standard time’) working hours are currently 7am-7pm, Monday to Friday. Any work that falls outside of these hours is known as ‘premium time.’

Dr Kitty Mohan, BMA junior doctor committee co-chair, said: “The UK government seems quite oblivious to the fact that junior doctors care for their patients all day, all night, seven days a week. And that, despite the safeguards in place, we still hear examples of junior doctors working days on end or 90 hour weeks.”

She added: “Last October, after more than a year of negotiations, talks with the government stalled after it became clear they were prepared to see these safeguards diluted even further regardless of the consequences for patients and doctors. It has quickly become clear that the so-called negotiations offered by Jeremy Hunt last month in his ultimatum to junior doctors offer nothing to address those concerns.”

“The government has said it wants to negotiate, but this ‘offer’ on the table is an imposition in all but name,” she said.

Danny Mortimer, Chief Executive of NHS Employers, which negotiates on behalf of the government, said that it was “a real shame” that junior doctors were refusing to continue negotiations, and employers up and down the country would be very disappointed.

But he added that the 10 reasons the BMA had given for not re-entering negotiations “demonstrate a staggering lack of understanding of what the DDRB recommendations actually are.”

He pointed out that the proposed revision of the whole pay system included higher rates of basic pay;  a standard 40 hour week and a lower cap of no more than 72 hours work in any 7 consecutive days; higher rates of pay for night work in return for more hours paid at standard rates; and improved pension benefits.

“We understand the BMA concerns about the recommendations and how they might be implemented, but working through these together is the best way to get the most suitable outcome for patients and doctors,” he insisted.

“BMA consultant colleagues are still talking to us about reaching an agreement on reformed contracts to better meet the needs of patients while being safe for doctors — that is the way forward for junior doctors as well.”

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