Jeremy Hunt criticised for retreating from commitment to 'impose' new junior doctor contracts

DH lawyers have said the Health Secretary never intended to 'impose' the contract, and were now saying only that the contract would be 'introduced' from August.

 

 If Jeremy Hunt is now claiming he isn't imposing the contract, then this also raises the prospect that he has misled Parliament.
If Jeremy Hunt is now claiming he isn't imposing the contract, then this also raises the prospect that he has misled Parliament.

Jeremy Hunt is facing new questions over his handling of the junior doctor dispute after the Department of Health (DH) appeared to retreat from its commitment to “impose” a new contract on the profession.

Lawyers acting for five junior doctors who are seeking to take Mr Hunt to the High Court over the dispute, claim that DH lawyers have said the Health Secretary never intended to “impose” the contract, and were now saying only that the contract would be “introduced” from August.

The distinction could be significant. Lawyers acting for the five doctors – known as the Justice for Health group – argue that Mr Hunt had no legal power to impose the contract on the majority of doctors. However, Mr Hunt responded directly to the claims, saying that there had been “no change of approach”.

“As set out in BMA’s own FAQs on legal position. Govt [sic] done what entitled to following disappointing & needless refusal to negotiate by BMA”, he posted on Twitter. But Labour claimed DH lawyers were trying to get Mr Hunt out of “what could be a very significant legal problem” and suggested he may have “misled Parliament”.

Shadow Health Secretary Heidi Alexander said: "This revelation is crucial because junior doctors have entered into a period of unprecedented industrial action off the back of the Tories' decision to impose the contract. Rather than trying to clarify the situation, Hunt has stayed quiet and refused to negotiate any further.

“His motives, judgement and competence are now being called into question.

Junior doctors' plea to David Cameron

"If Jeremy Hunt is now claiming he isn't imposing the contract, then this also raises the prospect that he has misled Parliament.

“Jeremy Hunt needs to urgently clarify whether or not he has the powers to impose a new contract. And if not, the Tories are going to have to answer to the thousands of patients and staff who have suffered months of distress and uncertainty because of the decisions they have taken.”

Dr Marie-Estella McVeigh, a member of the Justice for Health group said: “The reaction of the government’s legal team in changing their use of language, vindicates our belief that the imposition of this dangerous new contract is fundamentally wrong, and as we suspected – illegal.”

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