Jeremy Hunt should not impose junior doctors' contract, say senior NHS officials

Senior officials believe the new contracts could have an 'adverse impact' on patient safety 

Charlie Cooper
Saturday 09 April 2016 10:57
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The report found that the NHS funding injection promised by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has not been "as promised"
The report found that the NHS funding injection promised by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has not been "as promised"

Senior officials at one of the NHS' leading hospitals believe Jeremy Hunt should reverse his decision to impose a contract on England's junior doctors.

In an email seen by The Independent, the medical director of Addenbrookes Hospital, along with two senior colleagues, say they share junior doctors' concerns that the contract could have an "adverse impact" on patient safety, as well as affecting the training and quality of life of junior doctors.

They say they would rather see a negotiated settlement to the dispute between junior doctors and the Government, which has led the British Medical Association to call the first all-out strike by junior doctors in the history of the NHS.

The email, signed by Dr Jag Ahluwalia, the medical director of Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which runs Addenbrooke's, his deputy Dr John Firth and the trust's associate director of workforce Alison Risker, was sent to staff at the trust earlier this month to outline how doctors could help prepare for the likely implementation of the new contract.

Ms Risker was, until October 2014, a member of the team which negotiated with the British Medical Association on behalf of the NHS Employers and the Government, and later served on a "technical support" advisory group for the negotiators. Talks broke down in February.

The contract, which requires junior doctors to work more weekend shifts, cuts weekend pay, but increases basic salaries by 13.5 per cent, will be implemented from August. The NHS's 152 foundation trust hospitals, which have more autonomy than trust status hospitals, are not obliged to implement the national contract and are entitled to make their own contractual arrangements, but the Department of Health and NHS regulators have told chief executives they want to see the contract implemented at every hospital in England.

In their email, the Addenbrooke's officials say that hospital chief executives and boards are "coming under considerable pressure from the Department of Health and [NHS training body] Health Education England" to push ahead with the national contract.

"We, as others including the presidents of the medical royal colleges, would prefer that the decision by the Secretary of State to impose the contract were lifted and that there was a negotiated solution to the current impasse," they write.

They add: "We share the concerns of many, including members of the LNC [Local Negotiating Committee of the BMA] about the possible adverse impacts of the new contract on patient care (safety), training of junior doctors and work-life balance of junior doctors."

A number of NHS hospital chief executives are understood to have concerns about the potential impact the new junior doctor contract.

When the Government's lead negotiator, Sir David Dalton, chief executive of Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust, wrote to Mr Hunt to recommend he end negotiations and impose the contract, he cited the support of 20 NHS chief executives. However, 14 of them later said they did not in fact support imposition.

A Cambridge University Hospitals spokesman said: "This email was part of on-going working communication between our medical staffing team, the LNC and junior medical staff, and does not reflect the Trust's position. Like many Trusts we would like to see an end to the current dispute, and hope that both sides will work to secure an agreed way forward."

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