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Negotiations on new consultant and junior doctor contracts break down

BMA blames Government refusal to agree safeguards to protect doctors from working dangerously long hours

Ingrid Torjesen

Friday, 17 October 2014

Negotiations on new contracts for consultants and junior doctors have come to a standstill because the Government refuses to agree necessary safeguards to protect doctors from working dangerously long hours, which risks compromising patient safety and doctors’ wellbeing, the BMA says.

Provision of a seven-day service in hospitals has been a heavy focus of the negotiations, which have been going on for more than a year, but BMA said that, during this time, the Government has failed to produce any credible evidence on how to staff and resource the delivery of more seven-day services in a safe and sustainable way. They have also failed to offer sufficient guarantees on safe working hours which are vital to protect patient safety, ensure that the quality of patient care isn’t compromised and to prevent burnout amongst consultants. Similarly, the Government wants to remove vital safeguards designed to prevent junior doctors from working dangerously long hours, without replacing them with any alternatives, the BMA said in a statement.

Dr Paul Flynn, chair of the BMA’s Consultants Committee, said: “The BMA has been clear in its support for more services being available over seven days. We believe the Government must make urgent and emergency care the priority for investment to ensure patients have access to the same quality of care seven days a week, and that this needs to happen before elective – or planned – care can be extended.

“So far the Government has failed to produce any detail on how it will staff and resource a massive expansion of services in a safe and sustainable way. Without this detail, consultants are not prepared to sign up in the dark to proposals that could put patients at risk by forcing existing doctors to work dangerously long hours, or lead to weekday services being cut because there simply aren’t enough doctors to staff them.”

Dr Kitty Mohan, co-chair of the BMA’s Junior Doctors Committee, said: “The reality is many junior doctors are still working 90-hour weeks, leaving them exhausted and burnt out. By refusing to ensure that protections on safe working hours are in place, the Government has failed to protect patients and junior doctors from unsafe and gruelling working patterns.

“The Government’s decision to remove key safeguards designed to prevent doctors working dangerously long hours has been done for no reason other than to save money, regardless of the consequences.

“Junior doctors are asking for the same basic guarantees on safe working hours, training, fair pay and respect for the right to a life outside of work, which should be the bare minimum for any employee.

“If the Government is serious about increasing the number of people coming into medicine and if it wants to stem the flow of young doctors leaving the NHS to work abroad, it needs to urgently address these issues.”

Responding to the BMA’s statement, Gill Bellord, director of employment relations and reward at NHS Employers, said: "We are surprised to hear that the British Medical Association (BMA) junior doctors committee appears to have withdrawn from the discussions without notice and are communicating by Twitter. It is a disappointing way to conclude 18 months of serious discussions which were intended to ensure safer working hours for doctors in training, as well as providing them with stability of pay and agreed work schedules that take account of educational needs.”

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