Jeremy Hunt says junior doctors are 'responsible' for any deaths caused by all-out strike

The British Medical Association assures NHS staff that patient safety is the duty of hospitals and trusts, not doctors

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The Independent Online

Junior doctors are ultimately responsible for any deaths that take place as a result of today’s all-out NHS strike action, Jeremy Hunt has said.

The Health Secretary rejected suggestions that he should take responsibility for the consequences of industrial action by saying it was "a choice” for medics to withdraw their labour over the imposition of a new contract for NHS junior doctors.

"The people who are responsible are the people who have chosen to strike," he told Sky News.

"You can disagree with the Government's vision on a seven-day NHS but is it proportionate or appropriate to withdraw emergency care on vulnerable patients? Because that is what is happening today.”

His comments follow advice published by the British Medical Association (BMA) to all junior doctors that they cannot be held responsible if any lives are lost as a result of strike action.

The BMA has also however been keen to stress that emergency rooms are fully staffed by specialists and other senior doctors today, who are covering for striking junior doctors.

“Carrying out this responsibility does not mean that junior doctors taking industrial action are solely responsible for the safety of patients,” the BMA said.

Junior doctors strike - all you need to know

“If you are pressured not to take strike action for this reason, you should contact the BMA.”

A document circuated by the BMA to junior doctors reiterated that patient safety is the responsibility of hospitals and NHS trusts, not of individual doctors.

Up to £45,000 junior doctors are said to be taking part in the first all-out strike in the history of the NHS, which began at 8am on Tuesday morning and goes on until 5pm on the same day.

The walk-out will take place again on Wednesday over the same hours.

In a heated debate, Sky News presenter Eamonn Holmes said to the Health Secretary: “Somebody could die today. If so, you have to take some responsibility.”

The advice circulated by the BMA was criticised as a “depressingly cynical” attempt to reassure doctors who may be put off striking by fears that people will die as a result of the action.

More than 125,000 operations and appointments have been cancelled over the two-day strike period, which is set to be the first Accident and Emergency walk-out in the NHS’s 68-year history.

Speaking on the BBC Breakfast programme, Mr Hunt accused union leaders of trying to “blackmail” the Government with strike action.

He said he could only call a halt to the action “by abandoning a manifesto promise that the British people voted on” at last year's general election.

The Health Secretary said: “It was the first page of our manifesto that we'd have a seven-day NHS.”

“I don't think any union has the right to blackmail the Government, to force the Government to abandon a manifesto promise that the British people have voted on.”

Hospitals across England say they hope to minimise disruption by introducing contingencies, but the BMA's advice speaks against some of those plans.

In a statement, the BMA said: “Doctors want to do their utmost to protect patients, which is why the BMA has given trusts several weeks' notice to plan for this action.

“This guidance, which has been in place and openly available on the BMA website since the first action in January, explains that doctors have a duty of care to ensure the safety of patients, including the safe hand over of patients under their care. The guidance also explains that it is the responsibility of trusts to put in place robust plans to protect emergency services and minimise the impact on patients on the days of action.

“An agreed protocol is in place between the BMA and NHS England should any trust need to recall doctors during the days of action.”