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BMA agrees to enter into formal contract talks for junior doctors

If devolved nations follow suit, talks could start in autumn

Caroline White

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Formal negotiations on the new contract for junior doctors look increasingly likely to go ahead this autumn, after the BMA’s Junior Doctors Committee signalled its willingness yesterday to press ahead and reach an agreement.

The move follows six months of exploratory talks between the BMA and NHS Employers’ representatives across the UK, which were prompted by government proposals at the end of last year to change the current contract, agreed 13 years ago.

The devolved nations will also need to consent to formal negotiations before they can officially start, but with the BMA on board, that looks increasingly likely.

If they go ahead, the negotiations will focus on a heads of terms document, which emerged from the exploratory talks, as well as feedback from an Ipsos MORI survey of 1600 trainees and final year medical students in June on the employment and training issues they consider to be most important.

The feedback shows that many junior doctors are still working excessive hours, due to increasing pressures and staff shortages, and are worried this is putting patient safety at risk.

Despite the European Working Time Directive bringing in an average 48-hour working week, some trainees are still having to work up to 100 hours a week to meet demand, with many worrying for their own and their patients’ safety as a result.

Serious levels of understaffing mean junior doctors are putting in unpaid extra hours to meet patient demand and to ensure that extra work is not dumped onto colleagues.

Many of the junior doctors surveyed also voiced concern at the impact of long hours or long stretches of consecutive shifts on their home lives, with the unpredictability of training rotations, lack of flexible leave, and insufficient time to recuperate following unsociable hours all affecting morale.

“It is of great concern that junior doctors are being forced to work excessive hours and are often under intolerable pressure in order to ensure patient safety. There have been radical changes to the way we work since the current junior doctors contract was introduced 13 years ago,” commented Ben Molyneux, Chair of the BMA’s Junior Doctors Committee.

“The feedback highlights that despite working time regulations, juniors are still working long shifts night after night as well as extra, unrecorded hours,” he added.

“The Keogh Review highlighted that despite the lack of support and value placed on junior doctors, they remain the best champions for their patients and this must not be lost to the growing sense of frustration they feel,” he continued.

Dean Royles, chief executive of the NHS Employers organisation, welcomed the move to proceed to full negotiations on the reform of the contract for doctors and dentists in training, describing it as “the right thing to do.”

He added: “Employers in the NHS believe that the current contract is no longer fit for purpose. A new contract will support them to provide high quality patient care and effective medical training within a safe working environment. NHS Employers are awaiting the decision of the four UK governments on a mandate to proceed to negotiations in the autumn.

Given the recent Francis and Keogh reports highlighting issues around weekend staffing, we now need to press on with pace and purpose to ensure high quality care is increased at weekends. It won’t be easy but we are determined to put patient care at the heart of our negotiations.”

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