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Hunt accuses BMA of being ‘irresponsible’ and ‘spreading misinformation’

War of words intensifies ahead of Wednesday’s 24 hour junior doctors’ strike

Caroline White

Monday, 08 February 2016

The BMA has reacted angrily to health secretary Jeremy Hunt’s latest salvo in the bitter dispute between the government and junior doctors over the terms of their proposed new contract.

Speaking on the Andrew Marr Show yesterday morning, ahead of the one day strike planned for Wednesday, Mr Hunt said the BMA had been “irresponsible” for its refusal “to sit down and talk about how we can improve patient care,” which, he said, was “incredibly disappointing.”

And he accused the doctors’ union of “spreading misinformation” about cuts to pay and extended working hours under the new proposals.

While he accepted that junior doctors were angry, he said that this was because they had been misinformed.

“One of the reasons for that anger, and there is anger there, is because they were told by the BMA that pay was going to be cut. It isn’t. They were told that they were going to be asked to work longer hours. They aren’t. We are actually trying to bring down the hours they work,” Hunt insisted.

“If you are told by your union that the health secretary wants to do these awful things, of course you are going to feel devalued,” he said.

The way to resolve the dispute was to sit down and discuss “what is the right thing to do for doctors, and also for patients, and also to look at the bigger picture,” he said, alluding to the government’s commitment to making the NHS the highest quality and safest health service in the world, and the “record resources” the government was pumping into it.

He added: “There are always battles along the way, but I think what history will ask is, did the health secretary, did the government that’s committed to seven-day services in its manifesto, do the right thing to make care better and safer for patients? If they did, I think in the end, doctors too, will say there was a big argument over it, but it was the right thing for the NHS.”

But Dr Johann Malawana, BMA junior doctor committee chair, rejected the health secretary’s claims.

“The BMA has been clear throughout this process that we want to reach a negotiated agreement – no doctor wants to take industrial action, and our door has always been open to talks. But the government is putting politics before reason, and their continued threat to impose a contract that junior doctors have roundly rejected leaves us with no option,” he said.

“Junior doctors already work around the clock, seven days a week and they do so under their existing contract. If the government want more seven-day services then, quite simply, they need more doctors, nurses and diagnostic staff, and the extra investment needed to deliver it,” he insisted.

But the government was refusing to address these issues, he said, preferring to stick to its guns with proposals that were unfair and could prompt an exodus from the NHS, he said.

“We already have a situation where unprecedented numbers of junior doctors are considering their options and even leaving the NHS, how can the government deliver more seven-day services if there are even greater staff shortages in the NHS? The Health Secretary is also still refusing to acknowledge that he has scared patients and the public, and angered NHS staff by misrepresenting statistics,” he continued.

“This action is wholly avoidable but Jeremy Hunt's shambolic mishandling of this situation means he risks alienating a generation of junior doctors and undermining the delivery of future patient care, which is why 98% of those junior doctors who voted, supported taking industrial action,” he said.

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