The Government’s statement on doctors’ contracts

I have received this letter from Jeremy Hunt about doctors’ contracts:

On Monday evening, the British Medical Association walked out of talks with the Government and announced that junior doctors would be taking industrial action which will last for four days –

• Withdrawing elective cover for 24 hours next Tuesday;
• Escalating the same action for 48 hours later in January;
• Holding an unprecedented full walkout in early February.

As Professor Dame Sally Davies, the Chief Medical Officer, has previously said, the action the BMA proposes “is a step too far. I urge junior doctors to think about the patients that will suffer and I ask the union to reconsider its approach.”

The BMA’s decision is particularly disappointing given that we had made good progress in talks, talks which had restarted in December after the decision to go to ACAS. Danny Mortimer, Chief Executive of NHS Employers, and who has been conducting negotiations on behalf of the Government, confirmed that in those talks we had resolved 15 of the 16 issues put forward by the BMA before Christmas – everything apart from weekend pay. However after we presented an improved offer on Monday, it took less than an hour for the BMA to walk away. In fact, they issued notice of industrial action to some organisations whilst negotiations were still going on.

My absolute priority is patient safety and making sure that the NHS delivers high-quality care 7 days a week – and we know that’s what doctors want too. So it is hard to understand why the BMA are forcing a strike that risks patient safety at the most challenging time of year for the NHS. The case for change is unarguable –

• Seven studies in the last five years talk about the weekend effect, including two in the last six weeks;
• New-born deaths are 7% more likely, emergency surgery deaths are 11% more likely, stroke deaths 20% more likely and cancer deaths 29% more likely for those admitted at or around weekends, which is why a truly 7-day NHS was a key promise in our Manifesto.

As the NHS Medical Director, Professor Sir Bruce Keogh, has said, the new contract will improve safety if implemented correctly, and this deal is a very fair one for doctors –

• 75% of doctors will see their salary increase – and everyone working within legal hours will have their pay protected;
• A reduction in Saturday working rates will be offset by an 11% increase in basic pay, which will mean doctors’ pensions pots also go up;
• It will mean better rostering of doctors, ending the current situation where hospitals roster three times less medical cover at weekends compared to weekdays, and more support for consultants;
• It cuts the maximum working week from 91 to 72 hours, and introduces a new maximum shift pattern of 4 night shifts or 5 long day shifts – compared to the current contract which permits 7 consecutive night shifts or 12 consecutive long day shifts;
• It gives greater flexibility on rotas, so that juniors no longer have to miss special occasions due to inflexible rostering.

Let’s remember that the Spending Review confirmed an additional £3.8 billion for the NHS next year – but we can’t make Labour’s mistake of investing that money without also asking for reforms that improve patient care. Indeed Labour negotiated the current deeply flawed junior doctor contract in 1999, followed by the consultant contract (which gave a specific opt-out from weekend working) in 2003, and the GP contract (which allowed opting out of out-of-hours care) in 2004. Their reforms made things worse for patients, but we are determined to make the NHS the safest, highest quality healthcare system in the world.

Yours ever,

Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP
Secretary of State for Health


  1. Antisthenes
    January 7, 2016

    The BMA is seeing this as an attack on the rights, entitlements and privileges of junior doctors which if allowed to go unchallenged and stopped will spread to all doctors and medical practitioners. They do not wish to change the way they work. They have working and pay practices they feel comfortable with even though they are not in the best interests of their patients. The fact that they put self before patients is a selfish act and speaks volumes on the mind set of those who purportedly are working in a caring profession. They have lost sight of that fact that a healthcare practitioner first duty is to their patients and not themselves so points to their moral and professional decline.

    The NHS is suffering from the same disease that is affecting so much in our society. A disease that is caught by too much exposure to left wing progressives dogma and attitudes. A dogma that applauds restrictive and inflexible practices in the work place, monopolistic public bodies/institutions, mediocrity for the sake of equality and the overarching authority of the state. The perfect recipe for the removal of any feeling of responsibility and the removal of the incentives to work in anyone’s interest but their own.

    Jeremy Hunt may eventually get his way but it will be at a heavy cost that will make it even more financially unsustainable. A cost that would be unnecessary if the NHS’s left wing structure was dismantled in favour a provision and funding that incorporated a considerable degree of competition.

  2. lojolondon
    January 7, 2016

    Dear John, once again this is the result of Labuor’s unhealthy attitude to all government employees, they lve to go around like Father Christmas, distributing gifts, and have the ‘nasty old Tories’ take them away. Let me illustrate – Labour more than doubled the salary of doctors, simultaneously enabling them to stop working weekends. After 12 years of (carefully covered up by our state broadcaster) increasing death rates as you detail above, the Conservatives need to fix the problem. The labour-headed unions protest your very move, totally supported at every point by the BBC. The same situation occurred in the education department, where Michael Gove strove to improve the situation, bedevilled at every junction by the unions and media. This is hypocritical in itself, why would any media organisation be against an action calculated to reduce weekend death rates, especially the BBC?
    Labour’s way of governing and influencing will never stop, but ending the subsidy of the BBC will limit their capability to affect British politics.

Comments are closed.