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NHS prompts ‘no confidence’ in health secretary debate

Online petition opposing seven-day NHS working

Adrian O'Dowd

Monday, 14 September 2015

MPs are today due to hold a debate on an online petition that has forced parliament to discuss a possible vote of no confidence in the English health secretary Jeremy Hunt.

The petition was sparked after Mr Hunt spoke of his intention to force the NHS to change to provide a truly seven days a week service and for seven-day working for hospital consultants.

The wording says: “To debate a vote of no confidence in Health Secretary the Right Hon Jeremy Hunt” and it has received 220,482 signatures, with the numbers of signatories still rising.

It says: “Jeremy Hunt has alienated the entire workforce of the NHS by threatening to impose a harsh contract and conditions on first consultants and soon the rest of the NHS staff.”

Mr Hunt made a speech at The King’s Fund in July in which he said: “We will reform the consultant contract to remove the opt-out from weekend working for newly qualified hospital doctors. By the end of the Parliament, I expect the majority of hospital doctors to be on seven-day contracts.”

Following the speech, Dr Maureen Baker, chair of the RCGP, said: “Today's focus might be on hospitals but the Secretary of State's announcement will sound the alarm bells for hardworking GPs who fear we will be next in line - even though we are already being pushed to our limits in trying to provide a safe five-day service for our patients.

“There is already a severe shortage of GPs and it's difficult to see how we can be stretched even further to provide routine seven-day opening.”

The Department of Health has issued a response to the petition, saying: “Many people do not realise that if you are admitted to hospital on a weekend, you have a 16% greater chance of dying.

“The government wants to change this so that everyone can be confident that they will receive the same level of care whatever day of the week they are admitted to an NHS hospital.”

It acknowledged that NHS consultants were already providing an “outstanding service” and showed “great dedication to ensuring patients get the best outcomes”.

However, the government had a duty to make sure the system was run in a way that made it as easy as possible for hospitals to organise their resources to maximise patient safety across every day of the week.

It wanted to change the existing consultants’ contract that allows senior doctors to refuse to work non-emergency work in the evenings, at nights and at weekends.

A similar petition calling for the removal or resignation of Mr Hunt has also been created on change.org and has more than 107,000 signatures.

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