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Health Secretary gives doctors ultimatum on seven-day service

BMA has six weeks to negotiate or a new contract will be imposed on consultants

Ingrid Torjesen

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Doctors leaders at the BMA have six weeks to negotiate on seven-day working or a new consultant contract will be imposed, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said this morning.

In a strongly worded speech to the King’s Fund this morning Jeremy Hunt said: “There will now be 6 weeks to work with BMA union negotiators before a September decision point. But be in no doubt: if we can’t negotiate, we are ready to impose a new contract.”

Hunt said that the current opt out in the consultant contract for weekend working will be removed for newly qualified hospital doctors. “No doctors currently in service will be forced to move onto the new contracts, although we will end extortionate off-contract payments for those who continue to exercise their weekend opt-out,” he said.

He accused the BMA of being out of touch with their members.

“They are not remotely in touch with what their members actually believe. I have yet to meet a consultant who would be happy for their own family to be admitted on a weekend or would not prefer to get test results back more quickly for their own patients,” he said. “I will not allow the BMA to be a road block to reforms that will save lives.”

Every year around 6,000 patients died because hospitals services at weekends were different. “You are 15% more likely to die if you are admitted on a Sunday compared to being admitted on a Wednesday,” Hunt said. “No one could possibly say that this was a system built around the needs of patients - and yet when I pointed this out to the BMA they told me to ‘get real’. I simply say to the doctors’ union that I can give them 6,000 reasons why they, not I, need to ‘get real.’”

He added: “Every weekend swathes of doctors go in to the hospital to see their patients, driven by professionalism and goodwill, but in many cases with no thanks or recognition. The aim is to acknowledge that professionalism by putting their contributions on a formalised footing through a more patient and professionally orientated contract. As a result of these changes by the end of the Parliament, I expect the majority of hospital doctors to be on seven-day contracts.”

Danny Mortimer, Chief Executive of NHS Employers said that patients and employers want the delivery of the same high quality of care across the entire week and that the removal of the contractual opt-out for non-emergency work undertaken at weekends and evenings was “crucial” for achieving that.

“In order to support the move to delivery of more services over seven days, as well as other ambitions for a better NHS, employers want to review conditions of service to give them greater scope to address their local patient care and affordability challenges,” he said.

“We will continue to speak with our trade union colleagues, to ensure we continue to work in partnership to progress pay and contract reforms. Although we recognise that the recent announcement from the Government of continued public sector pay restraint is likely to make talks more difficult, we hope trade unions will continue working with us in partnership to achieve the reforms necessary to improve patient care across the NHS.”

Dr Mark Porter, BMA council chair, said: “Doctors care for patients and understand their needs, and have been clear in their support for more seven-day hospital services. We have repeatedly called on the government to outline how they will fund and staff them. And yet we are still no closer to finding out how the health secretary will pay for more weekend care or how he will ensure there isn’t a reduction in mid-week services.“

The Health Secretary “has chosen to dodge the hard choices and announce something that makes a great speech but does little to put in place the resources the NHS really needs,” he added. “We have been clear that we would be willing to work with the health secretary to better improve services. So today is nothing more than a cynical attack on doctors and an attempt to negotiate through press release rather than offering to sit down and discuss constructively with the very people who are delivering seven-day services for patients and who he expects to deliver these further changes.  

“If the health secretary really wants to put patient care first and foremost then he should work with those who spend each day doing just that as well as putting in place the proper funding for emergency care, rather than sniping from the sidelines and issuing artificial deadlines. Patients deserve no less.”


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