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Hunt pledges to impose new junior doctors’ contract

Ballot result leaves NHS in ‘no man’s land,’ which will boost uncertainty, he says

Caroline White

Thursday, 07 July 2016

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt plans to press ahead with the new junior doctors’ contract, despite their voting to reject the deal negotiated on their behalf in May.

But, as recommended by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, the new contract will be phased in to allow for any teething problems to be ironed out.

In a parliamentary statement yesterday, Hunt said: “Unfortunately, because of the vote we are now left in a no-man’s land that, if it continues, it can only damage the NHS.”

Following the resignation of the BMA’s Junior Doctor Committee Chair who had brokered the deal, the health secretary said that it was not clear whether there was anyone who could “deliver the support of BMA members for any negotiated settlement.”

He continued: “Protracted uncertainty at precisely the time we grapple with the enormous consequences of leaving the EU can only be damaging for those working in the NHS and the patients who depend on it.”

He had therefore decided that “the only realistic way to end this impasse is to proceed with the phased introduction of the exact contract that was negotiated, agreed, and supported by the BMA leadership.”

He outlined that it would be introduced from October this year for more senior obstetrics trainees; then in November and December for Foundation Year 1 doctors taking up new posts and Foundation Year 2 doctors on the same rotas as their current contracts expire.

More specialties such as paediatrics, psychiatry and pathology, as well as surgical trainees will transition in the same way to the new contract between February and April next year, with remaining trainees by October 2017.

“This is a difficult decision to make,” he said. “Many people will call for me to return to negotiations with the BMA and to them I would like to say this: we have been talking or trying to talk for well over three years. There is no consensus around a new contract and after [Tuesday’s] vote it is not clear that any further discussions could create one.”

But he added: “It is also important to note that even though we are proceeding without consensus, this decision is not a rejection of the legitimate concerns of many junior doctors about their working conditions. Junior doctors are some of the hardest working staff in the NHS, working some of the longest and most unsocial hours including many weekends.”

He said that the concerns about rota gaps and rostering would be monitored as the new contract was rolled out, and he pledged to look at how best to improve the working lives of junior doctors more broadly.

He had also commissioned an independent report to address the gender pay gap issue, which would deliver initial considerations in September, he said, and emphasised that the decision to phase in the new contract did not preclude further talks.

“While we do now need to proceed with the implementation of the new contract to end uncertainty, my door remains open. I am willing to discuss both the way the new contract is implemented, extra-contractual issues like training and rostering, and the contents of future contracts,” he said.

But interim chair of the BMA’s junior doctors committee, Dr Ellen McCourt, said: “It is extremely disappointing that the government is pushing ahead with the introduction of a contract that has been rejected by a majority of junior doctors.”

She said she believed that an agreed contact in which juniors had confidence was still the best way forward.

By choosing this route rather than building on progress made and addressing the outstanding issues which led to a rejection of the contract by many junior doctors, the government is simply storing up problems for the future, she warned.

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