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BMA to ballot juniors over industrial action over new contract

Government urged to withdraw ‘threat’ to impose contract

Jo Carlowe

Monday, 28 September 2015

The British Medical Association has confirmed that it will ballot junior doctors over potential industrial action over the imposition of a new contract. 

The contract which is due to come into force in August 2016 will see doctors’ ‘normal’ hours increasing from 7am to 7pm Monday to Friday to 7am to 10pm Monday to Saturday. 

Last month, the BMA’s UK junior doctors committee rejected the Government’s proposals for a new contract over fears for patient and doctor safety, and opted not to re-enter contract negotiations.

The BMA stated: “The BMA has always wanted to reach agreement on a new contract that protects patient safety and doctors’ wellbeing, but rather than work with junior doctors to address their concerns the Government has confirmed that it will impose a new contract on doctors in training from August 2016.”

In order to re-enter negotiations, the junior doctor committee is demanding that the Government and NHS Employers withdraw ‘their threat to impose a new contract’. In addition, the BMA is asking for the following “concrete assurances”:

  • proper recognition of antisocial hours as premium time
  • no disadvantage for those working antisocial 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 hours safeguards protecting patients and their doctors

Commenting on the decision, the newly elected chair of the BMA’s UK junior doctors committee, Dr Johann Malawana, said the decision to ballot is “a reflection of the anger felt by the thousands of junior doctors who have told us that the Government’s position is not acceptable.

“The BMA has been clear that it wants to deliver a contract that protects patient safety and is fair to both junior doctors and the health service as a whole. We can only do this if the government is prepared to work collaboratively in a genuine negotiation. Unfortunately, they have chosen to ride roughshod over the concerns of doctors with their threat of imposition.

“Instead of proper negotiations, the Government has insisted that junior doctors accept recommendations made by the DDRB without question. This would not allow the BMA to negotiate over proposals we believe are unsafe for patients, unfair for doctors and undermine the future of the NHS.”

He added: “The contract they want to impose will remove vital protections on safe working patterns, devalues evening and weekend work, and make specialties such as emergency medicine and general practice less attractive even though the NHS is already struggling to recruit and retain doctors to these areas of medicine.

“We remain committed to agreeing a contract that protects against junior doctors routinely working long hours, delivers a fair system of pay and does not disadvantage those in flexible working and we will not stand idly by as the Government imposes a contract which undermines that.”

And he warned that the contract would fuel the existing recruitment and retention crisis.

“We’ve already seen reports of high numbers of doctors considering leaving the NHS to work abroad. These figures should serve as a serious wake-up call to the Government that there is a real risk that junior doctors will speak with their feet. To lose a large swathe of doctors in the early stages of their careers would be a disaster for the NHS.

“We have been clear. Junior doctors are not prepared to agree contract changes that would risk patient safety and doctors’ wellbeing. This has been our position all along and, in the absence of any attempts by the Government to address our concerns, remains our position today.”

The Department of Health has described the ballot decision as “disappointing”. Commenting, a DH spokesperson said: “We congratulate Johann Malawana on his appointment as the new leader of the BMA junior doctors’ committee, and look forward to working together to achieve our shared aims of a safer, higher quality, seven day NHS. However it’s disappointing that the junior doctors’ committee has decided to ballot for industrial action in advance of receiving a formal offer from the Government. We urge the BMA to reconsider this decision and come back to the table because there is a great deal to discuss about how we reward the profession.

“We are not cutting the paybill for junior doctors, and want to see their basic pay go up just as average earnings are maintained.

“We really value the work and commitment of junior doctors, but their current contract is outdated and unfair - the best way of changing that is negotiation.”

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