A number of constituents have contacted me about the Government’s proposed changes to junior doctors’ contracts which are set to be imposed from August 2016.
Please let me start by saying that I share my constituents' concerns about this and am appalled by the arrogance shown by Jeremy Hunt in pursuing changes to junior doctors’ contracts despite strong public and professional opposition. I was concerned when talks between the Government and the British Medical Association broke down last year and even more so when Ministers announced that they are planning to push ahead and impose a new contract on junior doctors starting next summer.
I feel strongly that the NHS should be available to everyone whenever it is needed but not at a cost which would be detrimental to doctors’ working conditions and patient safety. The BMA has suggested that the new contract is unsafe, unfair and would ultimately be bad for the NHS. The Government needs to listen to this. Jeremy Hunt has said that they are pursuing this change of contract because he wants to ‘improve patient safety in hospitals’ but part of the contract removes incentives not to overwork doctors. Conservative MP and doctor, Dan Poulter, says that the contract ‘raises the prospect of 90 hour weeks being written into rotas’ and this is clearly impossible to reconcile with safe patient care. We would not expect lorry drivers or pilots to work such long hours so why should we demand it of our doctors?
It was worrying to hear that the number of requests for transfers abroad from junior doctors has risen sharply since this announcement and I was concerned to hear that out of 6000 trainee doctors polled, 42% said they may look abroad for work, 18% would resign their staff job in favour of locum work and 15% will consider a change of career. This comes at a time when morale is already low and the NHS is in the midst of a workforce crisis. We know that there is a shortage of GPs, for example, but this new contract would remove the supplement for GP trainees which gives them parity with those who work in hospitals. I cannot see how this will help the Government deliver their promise of 5,000 additional GPs.
Having so far failed to respond to the medical profession’s backlash to these proposals, Jeremy Hunt has finally responded. He has said that he can give an ‘absolute guarantee’ that this contract will not impose longer hours or will place an expectation on junior doctors to work more than 48 hours a week on average. While I would welcome any guarantee that would ensure doctors are not subject to unreasonable working hours, I am remaining cautious about this.
It seems to me that the best thing Jeremy Hunt could do at this stage is halt the proposed changes and re-enter into a dialogue with the BMA, paying attention to their very real concerns about patient safety. This has been handled poorly so far and I think it is important that the Government takes the time to thoroughly consider all of the arguments against the new contract before making any final decisions on its implementation.
Please be assured that I will put pressure on the Government where possible to ensure that doctors’ working conditions and patient safety is not compromised by poorly conceived policy ideas.