Junior doctors' contract could 'compromise patient safety', says Ex-Tory health minister Dan Poulter

Tthe Government has been looking for ways to make savings of £22bn in the NHS

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Former Conservative Health Minister Dr Dan Poulter has attacked the Government’s proposed new contract for junior doctors, saying it could “compromise patient safety”.

Junior doctors are considering strike action over the contract, which Dr Poulter said would lead to pay cuts and enshrine a 90-hour working week.

Writing in the Guardian, Dr Poulter, who was involved in the negotiations as a Health Minister until May and who previously worked as a junior doctor, said that before the general election the proposed new contract had been very different to the one the Government is threatening to impose.

“There was … a recognition by the Department of Health that now appears to have been lost: that better pay and work-life balance incentives were needed to ensure doctors were attracted to A&E and other gruelling specialities,” he said.

But, after the general election, the Government had been looking for more ways to make savings of £22bn in the NHS and the junior doctors’ working conditions and pay were seen as “ways to close the gap”.

“Junior doctors are not easily roused. They are rightly upset about proposed cuts to their pay, but the recent unprecedented decision to ballot for strike action is not fundamentally about money. It is rooted in very valid concerns about a contract that could compromise patient safety,” he wrote.

“When negotiations began with the British Medical Association in 2012, there was an implicit agreement that a new contract would not involve forcing doctors to work the excessive hours of the past.

“The contract that the Department of Health is threatening to impose on junior doctors once again raises the prospect of 90-hour weeks being written into rotas.

“Leaving aside the issue of legality, it is impossible to reconcile these excessive working hours with safe patient care.”

However the Department of Health said Dr Poulter’s interpretation of what the junior doctors’ contract meant was “incorrect”.

“Our proposals will mean average pay will not go down and there is no intention to increase working hours,” a spokesman said.

“In fact, we want to offer more safeguards over total hours worked for junior doctors than ever before.

“We call on the Junior Doctors Committee to re-enter negotiations and work with us to put in place a new contract that’s safe for patients and fair for doctors.”

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